As president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, Peter Christie eats out a lot. Over the years, he has seen all sides of the industry — first as a dishwasher at a diner in Westborough and eventually running his family’s restaurants in the suburbs. He recently spoke to Globe reporter Jenn Abelson.
State lawmakers recently relaxed the ban on pharmaceutical and medical device companies taking doctors out for meals at restaurants. The association estimated that sales dropped at least 10 percent at restaurants because of the prohibition. Was it really that bad?
There were many, many, many educational meetings being held in restaurants by the pharmaceutical and medical device industry. When the law passed in 2008, that came to an abrupt halt. Now proponents of the ban are trying to prevent alcohol from being served at these meals.
Are you kidding me — a doctor can’t have a glass of wine with dinner? This isn’t the three-martini lunch.
In 2011, the Globe found many restaurants in Massachusetts served consumers the wrong fish — often cheaper and less desirable species. A follow-up in 2012 showed most of these restaurants were still serving mislabeled seafood. What is your association doing to address the problem?
We reached out to the Food and Drug Administration, and they are very interested in doing some training sessions with us. The wholesale and distribution industry has a responsibility, as well, to make sure the restaurateur is getting what they think they’re getting. If I’m sitting looking at the Atlantic Ocean and I order 20 pounds of cod, I think its fair to assume that I meant something that came from that ocean. The distributor should have to tell me it’s Pacific cod.
Why don’t more restaurants make nutritional information easy to access?
It’s very, very difficult. We’re not like manufacturers and what’s in the package is consistently in that package. With food service, a 12-ounce trimmed sirloin might be 14 or 10 [ounces] depending on who is slicing and might have different seasoning depending on who is preparing.
What do you think about the proposed ban on soda in Cambridge?
They are against 20-ounce soft drinks. But it’s OK to order two 12 ounces? And they’re against 20-ounce sodas but it’s OK to have a mega-size brownie? Where does it all stop?
How do online review sites like Yelp affect restaurants?
I had a restaurateur call me yesterday about Yelp. He had a disgruntled consumer who wrote a bad review. The restaurateur contested the review, told his side of the story, and then encouraged his customers to write and let them know what they thought. In the meantime, he was solicited to advertise on Yelp. His concern is because he’s not advertising . . . the bad one remains front and center. I’ve heard this many times over. [Yelp denies that it manipulates placement of reviews to gain advertising.]
Did you hear about how Marc Orfaly, the chef of Pigalle in Boston, cursed at a customer on Facebook after she posted a comment on the site that his Thanksgiving pumpkin pie tasted like vomit?
That’s crazy. We all have to be careful of anything we say. What happens in Vegas, you’ll see on Facebook. Restaurateurs are adjusting to it and learning.
Is the huge growth in the food truck movement hurting the restaurant business?
People with bricks and mortar restaurants are offended when food trucks are allowed to be too competitive — they are not paying for taxes, not paying for liquor licenses. At the same time, some restaurants are jumping on the bandwagon and see food trucks as a way to expand the market. There should be a limit on the number of food trucks and rules about how close they can be to restaurants.
What won’t you order when you’re eating out?
I won’t eat sprouts. I have seen too many instances of food-borne illness outbreaks with sprouts. It’s very hard to wash sprouts as much as you need because you break them, and very often they are not cooked.Jenn Abelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @jennabelson.