It might be called “the blue-plate special bill,” joked William Lindsay, presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, after the panel this week passed a bill requiring that restaurants disclose the prices of their daily specials.
The measure was authored by Legislator Lynne Nowick of St. James, chair of the panel’s Consumers Affairs Committee, who believes that “the public should not be tricked” into buying daily specials. She maintained that waiters and waitresses should always disclose the price of such meals when describing them to customers.
There was no discussion among legislators Tuesday before the vote and, during prior public hearings on the proposed law, no testimony from concerned parties, including the operators of restaurants.
The bill now goes to County Executive Steve Levy for his consideration and, if he signs it, restaurants in Suffolk would face a stiff—and unappetizing—penalty for non-compliance: fines ranging from $50 to $500 per violation.
The proposed law would be enforced by what has been known as the Suffolk County Office of Consumer Affairs which, in a bill also passed on Tuesday, was upgraded and again known as the Suffolk County Department of Consumer Affairs.
Ms. Nowick said that “some of the good restaurants will give the price of specials,” but many do not. She stressed that, under her bill, “all a restaurant needs to do is add a little piece of paper on to the menu,” listing the price of specials or put the prices up on a menu board. “They have to be somewhere,” Ms. Nowick said.
She explained that she has been mulling such a law on specials for years, and “I’ve spoken to many people to see what they thought of this.” She said the reaction was consistent: “They all said, ‘Yes, we need this.’”
Ms. Nowick said her measure does not “take the right away of a restaurant to charge double or triple” for a special as compared to the prices of other dishes. However, she stressed that “they must inform the public” about the costs.
It is an issue, continued Ms. Nowick, “of consumer protection.”
The bill opens by declaring that “certain restaurants in Suffolk County do not recognize this ‘right to know’ when it comes to their policy for so-called ‘daily specials.’” These do not appear on the regular menu, and restaurants “in many cases fail to voluntarily apprise their customers how much these special cost.”
As a result, the resolution states, “too often consumers learn when their bill arrives that the special they ordered costs far more than they anticipated.”
Under the measure, all restaurants in Suffolk County would have to “give their patrons adequate notice of the prices of all food items offered for sale, including those items known as ‘daily specials.’” This could be by including the price of specials on the regular menu or “on a printed daily specials page,” or otherwise “posted in a manner and location so the price” would be “readily observable by patrons.”
Meanwhile, the change in the Office of Consumer Affairs has been pushed by both Mr. Lindsay and Mr. Levy, who issued a “certificate of necessity” enabling the bill to be acted upon immediately Tuesday.
The new agency will be headed by a commissioner who has yet to be appointed by the Suffolk County Legislature. The Office of Consumer Affairs has been without a director or assistant director since both men who had held those posts retired months ago.
“There’s no one there to oversee people. We need supervisors there to run the department,” Mr. Lindsay told the members of the legislature Tuesday.
The agency was originally set up in 1974 as a department, headed by a former assistant Suffolk County district attorney James Lack. But, in 1992, it was changed to the Office of Consumer Affairs and run out of the county executive’s office.