The English writer Virginia Woolf famously said, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
But while that’s the core belief of most chefs, restauranteurs, and food lovers, it is beginning to feel that the California Legislature disagrees.
From the war on plastic to limiting kids’ drinks to minimum wage raises for tipped employees, California restaurants are struggling to stay profitable in the face of legislative mandates. Unfortunately, every piece of anti-small business legislation increases a restaurant’s odds of failing – an ever-present fear. An estimated 60 percent of new restaurants close within their first year, and nearly 80 percent before their fifth.
And now, restaurant owners face another challenge: the impact of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).
Under the CCPA, which goes into effect in 2020, establishments like restaurants that depend on attracting a steady clientele will be limited in their ability to conduct business operations and reach customers. Restaurants depend on the internet to promote themselves at a low cost, as a means of keeping prices low. If the CCPA restricts this access, we will lose a vital new tool for finding new customers and helping them find their way to our restaurants.
I urge the Legislature to modify the CCPA immediately to ensure that doesn’t happen.
At my restaurant Caffè Bella, for example, we cannot rely on word-of-mouth endorsements alone to sufficiently fill the pipeline of new customers. We utilize some traditional marketing, but it is costly and not always what consumers are looking for (like an online menu). Internet marketing and an online presence is critical to our existence. We depend on the internet and social media to reach a large pool of people who may be looking for a place to dine. We don’t want to use the internet to collect personal information; we want customers and potential customers to know about our restaurant, where we are located, and the specials we are providing.
We have a well-optimized social media program. We encourage food bloggers and influencers to write about us, because good reviews and mentions raise our profile in a search. We partner with food delivery services that provide food to their customers through location services. We nurture return business through a customer loyalty program, which we promote online and through email lists. Most importantly, we engage in local search engine optimization (SEO) practices, given that almost three-quarters of all searches are for local content.
But the CCPA could limit our ability to use the internet to market our restaurant to customers. For example, we could be unable to access non-personal data to identify and reach customers who are searching for a restaurant. And, customers could unwittingly decide to “opt-out” from receiving ads and other information they want and enjoy.
We could also be precluded from communicating with customers through low-cost advertising, putting us at a competitive disadvantage with national chain restaurants that utilize television and print advertisements. And we could be preempted from offering discounts and loyalty programs to keep customers coming back – a growing trend in the food and beverage industry used by not only small establishments like mine, but also large chains — because we can no longer share information with our rewards program administrator.
Most people, including restaurant owners, want to keep personal information private and most people want to continue to have access to an information-rich internet that saves time and money. We can and should make both happen.
The CCPA was rushed through the legislature process without sufficient input from the small business community and, in its current form, could adversely impact business owners like me. I urge the Legislature to support legislation that modifies the CCPA before the law takes effect in January.
West Hooker is the owner of Caffè Bella in Santa Monica.

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