By John Burton
RED BANK – The idea of making sure that diners know what that cheeseburger or plate of pasta will mean to their waistlines may work for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg but not for Red Bank’s mayor.
Mayor Pasquale Menna said he would oppose a plan to require local eateries to list the caloric content of menu items.
“The concept was a valid one,” as an initiative to encourage healthier eating, “but will be a problematic idea in the context of a Red Bank restaurant model,” Menna said in a prepared statement.
What Menna found particularly sticky about the proposal was how difficult it would be for small, independently owned restaurants to comply. Especially since many of them regularly change their menus, some daily.
“You really have to think about the reality of what it’s going to cost,” he said. Restaurants would have to consult a nutritionist for their gastro concoctions and how that could translate for those stepping on their bathroom scales.
During a recent borough council meeting, a council member said he had read a report, compiled by the regional board of health, which appeared to endorse having the calorie count of a meal accessible to diners.
“On its face, it seemed like it was something that was forward-looking,” something he could possibly get behind, Menna said.
He recommended further investigation before bringing it back as a draft ordinance.
Menna then met with representatives of RiverCenter, the management and advocacy arm of the borough’s business special improvement district, and members of Red Bank Flavour, a local restaurant group. Members of the groups expressed their opposition to the initiative, he said.
The borough businesses made it “painfully clear” that “this requirement would be catastrophic to local restaurants as a mandate,” Menna said.
When he reviewed the report, he realized it supported the proposal for locations with standardized menus, “a la Burger King,” Menna concluded.
“By and large, when people go out to eat, they think of treating themselves.” They don’t necessarily want to have the menu waving its finger in their faces, chastising them, said Tom Fishkin, who owns and operates Readie’s Market Café on Broad Street.
“If you’re forced to put calorie counts, it’s not really going to help business,” Fishkin said.
He hoped the governing body abandons any such proposal. But, if there was such an ordinance, and “if it went to first reading,” Fishkin said, “the halls would be filled with restaurateurs in opposition.”
Last year Menna and the council instituted the Mayor’s Wellness Campaign to encourage residents and borough employees to take the path to healthier lifestyles.
Menna said he admired what New York City’s Bloomberg has done to encourage a healthier constituency.
“I happen to love Mike Bloomberg. I think he’s a fantastic leader,” Menna said. “New York’s model is wonderful, perhaps for New York, but I don’t see how it can work for us.”
Despite his appreciation of Bloomberg, the local Big Gulp remains safe.
“For those who like big sodas, they can drink them to their heart’s content,” he assured.