Community Commentary Opinion

We need to protect our family-owned restaurants

Small, independent and family-owned restaurants are an integral part of Encinitas. They help make up our character and are a part of our local community.

The California Restaurant Association (CRA) represents nearly 22,000 eating establishments throughout California.

We know our members use foam foodservice containers for two key reasons: affordability and effectiveness.

Foam keeps hot food and drinks hot without burning your hands and it keeps cold food and drinks cold without creating condensation. In addition, it keeps costs down so small restaurant owners can continue paying employee wages and keeping prices low for loyal customers.

CRA was strongly opposed to the ban on foam foodservice containers last year. We know that bans do not work and that they only penalize mom-and-pop restaurants.

It was discouraging when the city denied CRA’s recycling plan, Renew Encinitas, and instead moved forward with banning foam foodservice. We thank the City of Encinitas for thinking of the family-owned restaurants when they sponsored a program that reimburses restaurants up to $400 for switching from foam foodservice. And, we applaud Mayor Catherine Blakespear for encouraging restaurants to take advantage of the program.

However, we feel it is important to point out that switching to alternative packaging is not an easy task for many small restaurants. As pointed out by Michael Daffern, the manager of the Original Pancake House, “the alternative products cost much more, aren’t as effective as keeping food insulated.”

While a $400 reimbursement may appear to be a considerable incentive, unfortunately it is only a fraction of the actual costs these restaurants are going to see moving forward. Switching to alternative packaging will cost restaurants double or triple of what they are currently paying for foam foodservice.

A foam hot cup that normally costs three cents will triple in price for an alternative product. A 4-cent foam plate will increase to 9 cents for a plastic plate.

While these increases may sound small, they are substantial to restaurants that buy in large quantities — in some cases adding on tens of thousands of dollars a year in extra costs.

Many of the family-owned restaurants here in Encinitas are already operating on razor-thin profit margins, so even the slightest cost increase is felt.

I would also like to point out that the city just announced this program to restaurant owners in early February, giving them until Feb. 28 to receive up to $400, after that the reimbursement keeps lowering. It is a known fact that owners of small restaurants spend every possible minute at their restaurant. It is a 24-hour, seven days a week job. So taking the time to apply for a program doesn’t come easily and can’t just happen right away.

It is important for the city to understand that it is the small family-owned restaurants who were unfairly targeted through this ban.

Therefore, the California Restaurant Association encourages our city leaders to revisit the ban and rather embrace a more comprehensive recycling program that will actually reduce waste, reduce littering, and not harm small family-owned restaurants.

Chris Duggan is with the San Diego Chapter of the California Restaurant Association.