By Clarence Otis Jr., Special to CNN
updated 8:22 AM EST, Tue December 6, 2011
Editor's note: Clarence Otis Jr. is CEO of Darden Restaurants, parent company of Olive Garden, Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse. He is a member of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
Orlando (CNN) -- "Businesses adding jobs" is a headline every elected official loves to read. Sadly, it's one that's getting harder and harder to find because of a policy and regulatory landscape that makes it increasingly difficult for businesses to see why and where creating new jobs makes sense.
That's especially true for me and my colleagues in the restaurant industry, who find ourselves facing a plate piled high with more and more federal, state and local regulations.
Regulatory mandates flowing from federal health care reform may be the most visible, but the list also includes measures such as new mandatory paid leave provisions that require us to change the way we accommodate employees who need to take time off when they are ill and ever more unrealistic requirements regarding employee meal and rest breaks that, in California for example, force our employees to take breaks in the middle of serving lunch or dinner.
This reality is the result of the best intentions. Policymakers working in silos at every level are pushing through regulations that on their face seem to address admirable goals -- that are each directed at outcomes that seem desirable.
The cumulative effect of these regulations, however, is significant damage to the hard-working Americans who are the intended beneficiaries.
U.S. factories face labor shortage The employer mandate contained in the new health care reform law, for example, forces us to change the way we have offered health care coverage to our full- and part-time workers and, together with all the other looming regulations, causes us to rethink the way we schedule the hourly work force that is at the heart of how we deliver our product to customers.
Some suggest we accommodate the costs of new regulations in one of two ways: Accept lower profits, or charge customers more. Neither is a realistic alternative for many businesses, and certainly not for those in our industry. Like most in retail, low profit margins are a fact of life for us for good reason -- low margins are consistent with charging prices our customers can afford.
The difficult reality is that neither our shareholders nor our customers -- who are of course, the very working people policymakers champion -- can afford the cost of the unbridled increase in regulation we're experiencing.
This is not to say that the restaurant industry should not be appropriately regulated. Food safety and cleanliness standards are just two examples of categories of regulation we welcome given their importance in helping protect two critical elements of our promise to our guests, which are their safety and well-being.
So, what are restaurants doing about all of this? We are labor-intensive businesses and always will be, but we're relying more and more on technologies that make our businesses less labor intensive. It's an ominous development considering restaurants' role as a path to opportunity and entrepreneurship.
The problem with this article is that it makes too much sense. I will get lost on the big government aficianado's frequenting this forum. That is, the liberals who espouse a liberal use of government into the lives of everyday citizens versus the conservatives who want to wisely use government.
Note that the article does not once cite the word "democrat" or "republican", or the names "Obama" or "Bush". The closest it comes to any of these words is "policy makers". This probably gets lost on the highly partisan as well.