This is third post of an introductory series on Inspectus, building tools that guide small business owners through government compliance. In this post, we discuss who are the stakeholders involved in local compliance and why the current solutions aren’t working.
For restaurant owners, it’s a constant challenge to stay up-to-date on the rules regulating the food industry. Every year, these people need to pass inspections and renew permits in order to demonstrate compliance. This is especially difficult if you’re a food entrepreneur or independent restaurant owner who, unlike restaurant chains, doesn’t have a dedicated compliance staff or previous experience to help navigate the maze of regulations. With seven out of every ten restaurants in the United States being a single-unit establishment, more than half of the restaurant industry in the nation faces this challenge. 
The main problem they face is not being able to be full-time compliance officers to figure out the code on their own. While it’s a little absurd to think that a full-time compliance officer is necessary when opening a bar, for example, we discussed in the previous post how and why code is complex: it varies from state to state and, while really specific about what the rules are, does not necessarily explain how to abide by them. Moreover, code is written in government legalese that might make sense to the government employee, but often means gibberish to a business owner. Food entrepreneurs and independent restaurant owners do not have the time to spend combing through hundreds of regulations to find out which apply to their business, let alone figure out what the rule really means and what counts as passing. And so, despite many trying to find and understand the code that applies to their businesses, they often struggle to meet compliance.
The Contradiction Inherent in the System
Code is adopted and enforced by state government, so one would think that they could help food entrepreneurs and independent restaurants out. Yet, there are a few problems with that thought. First, state governments rely on external organizations to write the lion’s share of the code because developing and maintaining code takes time and expertise our state governments simply don’t have. And so, while state governments have the power to choose what they will make law, they don’t have the context of writing the code themselves that may help them explain the code to a restauranteur. Next, while state governments make code law, local government (cities and counties) ultimately administer and enforce the code. So, it would make more sense for a local government, rather than a state government, to step in to help food entrepreneurs and independent restaurant owners.
Yet, local governments are no better equipped than state governments to explain the code. Local government employees and the department inspectors who enforce code are not positioned to educate small business owners on how to meet compliance. Take health inspectors, for example: while a health inspector should have in depth knowledge on what a restaurant owner needs to know about their upcoming health inspection, inspectors are simply stretched too thin to help. Responsible with inspecting hundreds of establishments each year, many health inspectors don’t have the time to conduct all of the inspections they are supposed to do, let alone the time to stop and teach business owners how to pass. At the end of the day, the inspector’s job is to know what compliance looks like, to find any violations that exist, and bring them to the attention of the owner. They aren’t hired to teach local business owners how to achieve compliance.
Current Solutions Aren’t Working
Business owners cannot spend all of their time being proactive about compliance and local governments are not positioned to coach owners through the process. This leads to food entrepreneurs and independent restaurant owners taking unnecessary risks with their businesses simply because they don’t know how to be compliant. Today, one of their best options is to fail an inspection just to figure out what the violations are and how to fix them. Yet, failing an inspection not only exposes businesses to the risk of getting shut down, but it also doesn’t guarantee a solution that meets the owner’s budget and timeline. For example, an inspector can tell you to buy a brand new, top-of-the-line fire suppression system. It might pass the next inspection, but it’s likely not the best business decision for you to sink several thousands of dollars into a brand new system right now. If you try to find a cheaper model, though, there’s a chance that the inspector will say it’s not in compliance. You’ll have no choice but to take the loss and you’re likely going to experience a delay while you wait for the new system to be delivered and your next inspection to be scheduled.
In its most simple form, compliance appears to be a struggle between business owners and government.
But compliance doesn’t have to be a struggle or a test of a small business owner’s patience. At the end of the day, both restaurant owners and local government want the same thing: for customers to be safe and for businesses like restaurants to get and stay open to support the local economy. Plus, the more compliant restaurant owners are, the more profits their businesses stand to make.  If there was a simpler way to navigate the maze of regulations for retail food establishments, then food entrepreneurs and independent restaurant owners could focus on what got them into business in the first place: the food and the people.
In the next article, we’ll explain how Inspectus can help you navigate the compliance process today.
 National Restaurant Association reports that 7 in 10 Restaurants are single-unit operations. National Restaurant Association, “Facts at a Glance,” https://restaurant.org/News-Research/Research/Facts-at-a-Glance.
 When grade cards with health inspection scores were posted in Los Angeles county, for example, revenue increased by almost six percent for restaurants with an A-grade. See Jin , Ginger Zhe, and Phillip Leslie. “The Case in Support of Restaurant Hygiene Grade Cards.” CHOICES, 2005, pp. 97–102.