Supersized Soda Ban Eyed From Coffee Shops to Clubs

NEW YORK (AP) -

At barbecue joints, coffee counters and bottle-service clubs, a coming clampdown on big, sugary soft drinks is beginning to take shape on tables and menus in a city that thrives on eating and going out.

Some restaurants are ordering smaller glasses. Dunkin’ Donuts shops are telling customers they’ll have to sweeten and flavor their own coffee. Coca-Cola has printed posters explaining the new rules, and a bowling lounge is squeezing carrot and beet juice as a potential substitute for pitchers of soda at family parties — all in preparation for the nation’s first limit on the size of sugar-laden beverages, set to take effect Tuesday.

Some businesses are holding off, hoping a court challenge nixes or at least delays the restriction. But many are getting ready for tasks including reprinting menus and changing theaters’ supersized soda-and-popcorn deals.

At Brother Jimmy’s BBQ, customers still will be able to order margaritas by the pitcher, cocktails in jumbo Mason jars and heaping plates of ribs. But they’ll no longer get 24-ounce tumblers of soda since the new rule bars selling non-diet cola in cups, bottles or pitchers larger than 16 ounces.

“Everything we do is big, so serving it in quaint little 16-ounce soda cups is going to look kind
of odd,” the owner said. Nonetheless, he’s ordered 1,000 of them for the North Carolina-themed restaurant’s five Manhattan locations, rather than take on a fight that carries the threat of $200 fines.

“As long as they keep allowing us to serve beer in glasses larger than 16 ounces, we’ll be okay,” he reasoned.

Beer drinkers can breathe easy. The restriction doesn’t apply to alcoholic beverages, among other exemptions for various reasons. But it does cover such beverages as energy drinks and sweetened fruit smoothies.

City officials say it’s a pioneering, practical step to stanch an obesity rate that has risen from 18 to 24 percent in a decade among adult New Yorkers. Health officials say sugar-filled drinks carry much of the blame because they have hundreds of calories but don’t make people feel full.

The city “has the ability to do this and the obligation to try to help,” the plan’s chief cheerleader, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said last month.

City restaurant inspectors will now routinely be armed with new city-issued cups specifically designed for the initiative, according to the Daily News.

The new cup — a solid measuring-cup-style mug capable of holding 17 fluid ounces — will allow inspectors to fine businesses when their servings “clearly exceed” 16 ounces “when measured in the inspector’s measuring cup.”

Critics say the regulation won’t make a meaningful difference in diets but will unfairly hurt some businesses while sparing others. A customer who can’t get a 20-ounce Coke at a sandwich shop could still buy a Big Gulp at a 7-Eleven, for instance, since many convenience stores and supermarkets are beyond the city’s regulatory reach.

New Yorkers are divided on the restriction. A Quinnipiac University poll released last week found 51 percent opposed it, while 46 percent approved.

“I don’t know if the state should be our surrogate parent,” Peter Sarfaty, 71, said as he drank a diet cola with lunch in Manhattan this week. “You get the information out there, but to tell people what they can or can’t do? As if it’s going to stop them.”

Business organizations ranging from the massive American Beverage Association to a local Korean-American grocers’ group have asked a judge to stop the size limit from taking effect until he decides on their bid to block it altogether. He hasn’t ruled on either request.

Many businesses aren’t taking chances in the meantime.

Dominic Fazio, the manager of a Penn Station pizzeria, has stopped ordering 32-ounce and 24-ounce cups, though he calls the regulation “ridiculous.”

“But I guess the law is the law, right?” said Fazio, who put up an explanatory sign Coca-Cola Co. provided. The Atlanta-based soda giant said in a statement that helping small businesses prepare was “the responsible thing to do.”

The rule’s effects may be particularly pronounced at theaters, where belly-buster sodas are as familiar as coming attractions. Big beverages also account for about 10 percent of profits.

Some businesses, though, are adapting with gusto.

At Frames Bowling Lounge, a Manhattan spot, the families who pack the lanes on weekend days will no longer be offered pitchers of soda as part of a party package, executive general manager Ayman Kamel said.

Instead, they can get individual eight-ounce cups of soda — or pitchers of the low-sugar house-made juices that he and staffers spent an afternoon tasting this week. They experimented with such options as carrot, beet and mint-and-citrus.

“It’s going to cost a little bit more money, but nothing is more valuable than having freshly squeezed juice available for our clients,” he said. “We’re taking advantage of the situation to promote the good side — healthy options.”

Meanwhile, Bloomberg was asked on Friday about the limits to his health crusade and if he would attempt to force people to exercise.

His reply? “Probably not.”

However, Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty said in an NY1 interview on Friday that a ban on plastic bags is currently under serious consideration.

“We see it being done all around the country, and it’s good for the environment, and it’s good for the aesthetics of the city and the cleanliness of the city, so it’s something that’s going to have to be seriously considered, the pros and cons of it,” Doherty said.

“We’ll see how the city goes forward on it. It’s something that’s on our drawing board. No doubt about it.”