Can a business add additional fees and charges to a bill due to COVID-19?

Yes. Consider the additional costs to build barricades, close off every other table, provide enough disinfectant, and sanitizer. Also supplying disposable personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees. Obviously, that costs money.

Additionally, for those of you in the food industry you are already aware of the shortages in supplies. For example, COVID-19 has slowed the U.S. meat production for months due to closures: https://www.wsj.com/articles/coronavirus-to-slow-u-s-meat-production-for-months-ceo-says-11589540400.

What does a restaurant owner do in the face of rising costs, mandatory expenses, and limited customer base? Charge additional fees. Some businesses already have begun charging a COVID-19 fee to help cover these costs and expenses. Specifically, it appears as a line item on receipts. The economic justification is the COVID-19 fee is for the things like the PPE, plastic barricades, and other social distancing requirements placed by government regulation.

If the business is being transparent and disclosing the potential customer or client that additional fees will be charged, then the business can pass along those fees. Obviously, there are caveats to this, such as reasonableness and what is sufficient notice prior to the assessing such a charge. For example, kind of like how restaurants would notify you of automatic gratuity charge for parties over a certain size in their menu or putting a sign at the grocery store entrance to charge for providing a bag.

I understand for consumer-minded people that this is a shock, a deviation from the norm. Going from a couple of months of lockdown to added fees for some basic activities like dental cleaninings and haircuts is a bit much.  However, the overall sentiment is that, yes, a business can assess an additional fees due to COVID-19 social distancing expenses.

Isn’t this gouging?

Not likely. The law in Hawaii, which is Hawaii Revised Statute 127A-30 is specific about when it is prohibited to increase of prices during a state of emergency and similar situations. By the very nature that the economy is reopening, that would indicate the emergency is ending. Specifically, HRS 1270A-30 prohibits “any increase in selling price of any commodity, whether at the retail or wholesale level, in the area that is subject of the proclamation [state of emergency] or the severe weather warning;”

In the case of personal beauty service providers it would be hard to argue that their service is a “commodity.”

Additionally, the law makes clear that “any additional operating expenses incurred by the seller [] because of the emergency or disaster or the severe weather, and which can be documented may be passed on to the consumer.” Again, we have that key term “documented”.  So another out for these fees to documenting the decision in how to apply them. Business owners considering COVID-19 fees would be wise to do planning and accounting of how they are derived. Showing the correlation between the fees assessed and the social distancing requirement expenses may be critical in defending the practice.

Business owners should always be aware of actions that may be perceived by the public as unfair or deceptive. The reason is that consumer protection laws do consider unfair or deceptive acts or practices as unlawful. Therefore, a business owner needs to communicate effectively with potential clients and customers about their COVID-19 fees.

Is there an example of this in other industries?

The COVID-19 pandemic aside, disasters whether natural or man-made have always disrupted supply chains and causing problems for business owners. There are industries where detailing out the contractual relationship in these kinds of situation is the norm. One example is contractors and homeowners for the price of supplies.

Consider, if there is a forest fire that destroys a large supply of lumber. Then the lumber supplies for home building decreases, but demand goes up. So the contractor has to source the wood supplies from others. For business lawyers, we would look to see if this situation is in the contract. Is there an Escalation/Unit Price clause? This clause would be show there was an explicit understanding between the parties. It would indicate if the contractor is entitled to adjust the material price of an item due to an event impacting their bottom line. Like short supply of lumber due to a fire disaster.

Stores, restaurants, beauty services, and dental offices unused to such jumps in operating expenses obviously shock their consumers when they pass COVID-19 fees. Obviously, customers and clients also do not an expect a lengthy written contract that spells it out. Instead they just get the bill for it. The business owner then gets a lot of angry comments.

DISCLAIMER: This post provides general information, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in the post without seeking the advice of  an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

Where is the Hawaii economy for reopening? Where can an owner get guidance to reopen?

So here in Hawaii the economy is beginning to reopen. In Honolulu, hair, nail, lash, and in general beauty operators and services were allowed to re-open past Friday. In Maui, most businesses will be allowed to reopen on June 1st, whereas in Hawaii island personal services and restaurants (excluding bars and night clubs). On Kauai, salons and barber shops, retail and mails, and cleaning and construction have been reopened since May 22nd.

In general, what is clear is the Hawaii economy is heading toward reopening, with the likelihood of gyms, bars, night clubs, and large gathering places where intimate contact is involved of remaining closed until government officials can come up with plans and guidelines. This is something determined between the governor and the mayors, as the mayors submit their proposals to the governor for approval. Therefore, the industry re-openings are not uniform between the islands.

The best thing for a Hawaii business owner that needs guidance as they consider reopening is to review the State of Hawaii COVID-19 resources, and then depending what county you are in, review the county orders and guidelines. Further, for many industries their trade groups and associations, provide industry-specific guidelines on dealing with these regulations. Finally, of course professional advisors, such as attorneys and human resource companies are there dealing with the customer/client and employee aspects of reopening.

Is there a place where the local rules and regulations are at?

Yes, the State of Hawaii and the 4 counties have websites going over the various order, mayoral proclamations, and guidelines to assist businesses in their reopening and future plans to reopen the economy. Of course this information constantly changes due to the virus. Further, the government frequently issues clarifications on unclear rules or plans as people and businesses provide feedback.

What are some of the specific requirements a business owner needs to prepare for reopening?

For the business owner that is committed to reopening soon, and especially dealing with direct interactions with clients and customers if you’ve reviewed some of the state and counties’ guidelines, then you know there are a number of changes you will have to make. This is especially true for retail, restaurants and food courts, beauty and personal health services. The following are some of the social distancing requirements a business owner in these industries need be keenly aware about:

  • 6-feet distancing;
  •  Limited occupancy;
  •  Face coverings
  • Providing of hand sanitizer and sanitizing products
  • Regular disinfecting; and
  • of course signage to notify all employees and customers of these requirements.

Again, this is a partial and general list and so a business owner needs to spend some research and review time for their business plan to reopen. One Oahu has a Business Guidance Page: https://www.oneoahu.org/business-guidance

CDC Reopening Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses Schools, and Homes: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/reopen-guidance.html

DISCLAIMER: This post provides general information, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in the post without seeking the advice of  an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

I just wanted to recap my seminar on business partnerships from last week at the Entrepreneurs Sandbox. Entitled All is Fair in Love and War: Navigating Business Partnerships, and playing off of Valentine’s Day, my panel and I discussed the ins and outs of business partnerships. We touched upon of course my focus, business law, as well as estate and financial planning, and marketing issues. I’d like to thank John Roth, esq. of Hawai’i Trust and Estate Counsel, Kai Ohashi, AAMS of Edward Jones, and Thomas Obungen of Slug Media LLC for their participation. Further their insight, knowledge, and personal experiences helping clients in business partnerships proved to be invaluable to the audience. A thorough discussion took place on the issues facing business partners inside and out of their business. Some of the topics included:

  1. Due Diligence of Potential Partner
  2. Choice/Forming Business Entity
  3. Operating Agreements
  4. Restrictive Covenants
  5. Goals & Metrics
  6. Succession Planning
  7. Departing Partners, Death & Disability
  8. Financing a Partnership
  9. Buy-Sell Agreements
  10. Differing Generations of Partners
  11. Partners that Have Competing Marketing/Branding Visions
  12. Communicating Internally and Externally
  13. Change of Business Partners
  14. and many more!

What I Had to Say on Having Business Partners

Attorney Ryan K. Hew enjoying hosting the seminar with a doughnut!
All is fair in love and war, including eating a doughnut while presenting on business partnerships, while the litigation partner is at the office!

Talk it Out

For this recap I am not going over the whole presentation, but instead I would highlight a couple of items. I myself have a business partner, he handles the commercial litigation. So we see a lot of business partnership breakups; it says something when the transaction attorney and commercial litigator both feel the two biggest factors for business divorce:

  1. Lack of communication
  2. Differing Expectations

If you think about it, number 2 is an off-shoot of number 1. If you and your partner have differing goals and fail to talk about those issues, then over time the gap in goals widens. This gap is sometimes too wide to overcome. For example, money issues tend to be the biggest source of complaint. Of course they are, as profit is the nature of what a partnership. If you don’t know what the law defines as a “partnership” check my other post here. Frequently, partners that contribute different amounts of capital have differing exit strategies. Also know that even when the company is making money partners fight. Yes, I’ve seen arguments over profitable businesses because the partners failed to talk about what they would with their success. Distribute? Reinvest?

Then Write it Down

Even if you and your partner have discussed the issues, if you fail to formalize those discussions that is still a lack of communication. The reason being is memories fade, goals change, and in general life happens. What happens is the partners remember conversations differently. Then law firms, like mine, spend countless hours sifting through emails, texts, and images, trying to piece together what could’ve been the agreement. So the next thing to do after discussing and agreeing is writing it down. One of the activities that separates us from other animals is our desire (some more than others) to record things. Mark Kurlansky an author that focuses on interesting history topics, talks about this in his book Paper: Paging Through History.

Not every documentation needs to be a book, but having the formalities is crucial for a healthy business partnership. This is especially true for big ticket items. Consider items such as capital contributions, members’ interest, distributions, profit/loss allocation, and member’ responsibilities and duties. With a professional’s assistance, partners can discuss what they want and then document in a legally, binding enforceable agreement. For LLCs and their members, that is an Operating Agreement. Note: I am mostly sticking to limited liability company (LLC) language just due to the nature of my practice. For partners forming a corporation these items will be discussed, but will have differing terms and restrictions due to the choice of entity.

Operating Agreements & Employment Agreements: Separated or Incorporated

One other thing about why using a professional to assist in drafting your formal agreements is best. The advice on whether to separate or incorporate several relationships and arrangements in one document as opposed to several. The reason I bring this up as an audience member had an excellent question. Their question was:

Should an Operating Agreement contain the members’ employment duties and obligations?

Generally, an Operating Agreement is used to outline the LLC’s financial and functions processes as it relates to the LLC and its members (the owners of the LLC). It acts an internal governance document of the operations with respect to the way the owners interact with each other and the entity as a whole. Yes, in an Operating Agreement duties and obligations can be placed on the members, such as a restrictive covenant for non-competition. However, employment duties and benefits, such as position/title and duties under that position, compensation, vacation may be considered in a separate arrangement, an Employment Agreement. Why?

Consider a partnership were there are multiple members, the membership may elect one of them to be the Manager in a Manager-Managed LLC. Therefore, management authority would reside in the Manager and would be spelled out in the Operating Agreement. However, for their day-to-day tasks, compensation package and benefits, and termination provisions, those may be considered under an Employment Agreement. The reason for this separation is what if the membership wants to “fire” the Manager under the Employment Agreement, but there is an understanding that individual remains a member under the terms of the Operating Agreement. Having one giant document where duties and rights are confused or entangled may be problematic in enforcement or trying to carry out, especially in tense situations. Separation sometimes provides flexibility. Obviously, the trade-off is more documentation.

Last Words: Get it Signed

That was a brief recap of some of the interesting discussions that took place at the seminar. Hopefully, this will prompt you to consider your own business partnerships and what you need to do to improve their health. One last consideration: if you get a formal agreement, then get it signed! There is no point in engaging a professional to draw up a mutually agreed upon contract to then not execute it. It is worst, to then later to get into a dispute over the very subject matter in that formal agreement. Obviously, please speak to your advisers, including an attorney in your relevant jurisdiction. While, it may be costly, consider the costs of miscommunication, then the potentiality of lawsuits due to your business partnership dispute.

I know somber last words, but cheerfully check back for future seminars and similar content.

Thanks for reading!

DISCLAIMER: This post provides general information, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in the post without seeking the advice of  an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

Hey everyone, Happy Lunar New Year!

Lunar New Year and New Seminar

Yes, there’s a delay on my traditional post on laws related to the animal of the year. However, check out last year’s How Can I Hunt Boar in Hawaii? or 2018’s Can a Landlord Charge a Tenant Extra for a Dog? In the meantime, I’ve been busy with a number of projects. First, I’ve been putting together another seminar and panel similar to last year’s Non-Profit November: Formation & Compliance. For this February, it is All is Fair In Love and War: Navigating Business Partnerships.

This seminar will be on dealing with business partnerships, such as formation issues, estate planning and finance, and in general what it is like having a business partner. Joining me will be a panel of subject matter experts. John Roth of Hawaiʻi Trust and Estate Counsel, Kai Ohashi of Edward Jones, and Thomas Obungen of Slug Media LLC. If you are in Honolulu the day before Valentine’s Day, February 13th, 11:30 AM – 1:30 PM HST, then come to Kakaʻako’s Entrepreneur Sandbox. For more information and to buy tickets for this seminar go to Eventbrite.

Web Search Autocomplete Questions Video

So that’s one project. The other project is my staff and social media consulting friends and clients all have been urging me to do more video content. So the staff came up with this fun project.

In the video below, I answer questions to a web search’s autocomplete function. If you’ve ever started typing into an internet search bar, then there are suggestions on what the most common web searches for the word or phrase. In this case, to plug the seminar my, the staff gave me the following web search autocomplete questions:

  1. how are business partnerships |
    • how are business partnerships formed
    • what are business partnerships
    • how business partnerships work
    • how do business partnerships work
  2. why are business partnerships |
    • why are business partnerships important
    • what are business partnerships
    • why business partnerships fail
    • why business partnerships don’t work
    • why do business partnerships fail

For my answers watch the video:

HRS Definition of “Partnership”

By the way, in the video you see me try and quote what the Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) definition of the word “partnership.” Well, here is the specific definition in the law:

“Partnership” means an association of two or more persons to carry on as co-owners a business for profit formed under section 425-109, a predecessor law, or comparable law of another jurisdiction.

HRS §425-101

Obviously, that is the legal definition of partnership, but as you may know (or maybe not, thus the seminar and video) is business people use the term “partnership” very loosely as opposed to the legalese. For instance, someone may say, ” My partner in my LLC.” Technically, “members” is the term for a multi-member limited liability company, that is the owners of the LLC. However, the person would be indicating “partner” as their business partner within the LLC. This is just one example how legal definitions differ from everyday use of words and terms. This post, the seminar, and the video is concentrated dealing with the many issues associated with business partnerships, including definition/use, forming them, and of course, when an attorney is involved, fighting in them!

Thanks for watching and reading. Until next time!

DISCLAIMER: This post provides general information, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in the post without seeking the advice of  an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

Your Personal Resolutions vs. Corporate Resolutions

So we are midway through January 2019 as of this post. How are your New Year’s Resolutions coming along? Are you preparing for your 2018 tax returns? Government shutdown or no the IRS will still be collecting taxes, so that’s always a struggle. In particular keeping your accounting and records in order to help yourself or your accountant.  So working on your taxes and helping out your accountant, whether you own a business or not, may be a personal resolution.

If you are responsible for a corporation’s records you probably want to make it a personal goal to make it the corporation’s goals to be prepared and organized for corporate meetings and docs.

For businesses though, another issue they may struggle in trying to do better each year is in their record keeping. Particularly, a problem acute to corporations, is documenting a corporate board’s decision-making process. Sometimes for corporate compliance concerns documenting the board’s decisions is crucial. It might be what is at issue in an IRS audit or an investigation by a licensing/permitting government agency.

From following the Articles of Incorporation, By-laws, calling meetings, setting agendas, sending notice, etc … there is a lot of keep track of for corporate formalities. One of the important documents in the corporate governance and record keeping process is the corporate resolution.

Understanding Corporate Resolutions

Corporate resolutions should be stored with other records like minutes.

Good record keeping, including documenting resolutions is key for corporate governance and compliance.

So what is a corporate resolution exactly? Corporations are legal persons. While, they are not living, breathing people like you and me they are persons under the law. They can own property, sue others, and be sued themselves. However, in order to do something, that is take action, corporation’s have boards that make decisions. In that way, corporate resolutions are like personal resolutions. Where you are resolved to accomplish something, like eat better or exercise more, a corporation is resolved to take out a loan or buy a piece of property.

For more information on corporate resolutions download and read the following One-Sheet. It is meant to answer the basic questions of corporate resolutions: ONE-SHEET: WHAT ARE CORPORATE RESOLUTIONS?

Many corporations spend a lot of money on their corporate formalities and governance items, such as:

  1. Proper notice and running of meetings;
  2. Timely annual filings and tax returns;
  3. Well-draft resolutions and minutes; and
  4. Documenting decision-making processes.

With so many stakeholders interested in corporate actions, such as shareholders, directors, officers, executives, IRS agents, licensing boards, regulators, environmentalists, and social activists corporate resolutions are just one of the many records that need to be maintained.

Resolutions Used in Other Organizations

Other organizations also use resolutions.

A variety of organizations and associations also use resolutions. They just do not call theirs “corporate resolutions”.

Finally, realize that for-profit corporations’ boards are not the only boards that should be documenting their actions and decision-making. That is resolutions are not only for them. Consider these situations:

  1. legislative bodies, their committees, and boards/agencies showing how they met and discussed the passing of laws or changing of regulations;
  2. nonprofit boards should avoid self-dealing, conflicts of interests, and the like as certain actions may be perceived abusing their charitable and tax exemption status for 501(c)(3) corporations, thus answering inquiries by the IRS and state regulators;
  3. homeowners’ and condo association boards where the decision to implement house rules, policies, and/or improvements could be challenged by owners or by injured parties for liability purposes; and
  4. yes, even LLCs and partnerships may use resolutions, they just do not call them “corporate resolutions”.

Resolutions in general are just a document of an action to be taken. Whether they pass or not a corporate board is something else. Corporate resolutions is just one of the tools in the corporate governance and compliance process. So anyone forming a corporation, serving as an officer/director, or becoming a shareholder should familiarize themselves with corporate records.  If your new to proper corporate governance and drafting of resolutions, then you may want to consider a lawyer’s help.

Finally, for your personal resolutions good luck!

-RKH

DISCLAIMER: This post provides general information, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in the post without seeking the advice of  an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

Thank you to all our veterans! Happy Veterans Day!

Support for Veterans Through Business Ownership

Happy Veterans Day and thank you to all the people who have enlisted to serve our country. I thank all veterans, but this post is mainly for highlighting those resources available to vets for small business ownership. As it is a topic that I care about and my personal sentiment is if you as a vet have taken the sacrifice in defending our country, then we can sacrifice some time to educate and help the transition to successful civilian life.

One path can be owning your own business.  I find that here in Hawaii, so many military personnel consider settling down in the islands after they are done with their military service. Then the question turns into opening a business due to the opportunities of being a contractor.  However, unfortunately business law tends to be abstract and also given the way the islands tends to do business and regulation that adds to their complexity. So hopefully if you, as a vet (or their spouse) are reading this, you find it helpful as a start.

Getting ready to become a business owner as a Veteran means educating yourself on aspects of small business ownership life. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources.

What a Vet Should Learn Prior to Starting a Business

In the past have had the fortune of conducting one of my favorite seminars as a part of the Boots 2 Business (B2B) program. More on that down below. Specifically, entity formation, but as an attorney I would stress understanding more than just choosing between LLC or corporation. If opening a business as a vet consider the following:

  1. forming a business entity;
  2. differences between LLCs and corporations;
  3. structuring and governing the entity you choose;
  4. tax and accounting issues;
  5. basics of contract law;
  6. understand local and state regulations;
  7. applying to be a government contractor;
  8. if you have a service-related disability, then understanding the program requirements for the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program;
  9. moving your business and/or operating in multiple states; and
  10. if you are going to have a partner, then really understanding what a business partnership entails.

This is not an exhaustive list, but what I’ve come across in terms of frequently asked questions or issues. There are many other aspects such, as operational, marketing, human resource, and financial concerns for business ownership. In terms of where to get that education the B2B program is an educational and training program offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). It is put out under the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Transition Assistance Program (TAP) and basically gives a survey course of business ownership. Note that it is open not only to Veterans, but also Active Duty Service members, and their spouses. Definitely worth a check out if you are considering opening a business an eligible.

Other Resources

In addition to the US SBA’s main website, if you are in Hawaii, then consider the following:

  • The SBA local office
  • The Veteran’s Business Outreach Center of the Pacific (VBOC)– The VBOC is a program of the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo and funded partly by the SBA. It is committed to assisting veteran entrepreneurs by providing access to advisers on business and strategic planning, marketing, financial decisions, and starting, running, and exiting a small business.
  • Hawai’i Small Business Development Center (SBDC)– The SBDC is also funded in part through the SBA, but also by the State of Hawaii. The SBDC provides advice, research, and training for business owners.
  • SCORE Hawaii– is an organization dedicated to helping small businesses via education and mentorship. So they offer a varieties of educational activities, such as low-cost workshops or access to *mentoring.

*Note: whenever counseling with a new potential business owner client, I always tell them the biggest thing you can do for yourself is finding a good mentor.

Final Words

Sometimes closing down isn’t permanent. Sometimes you need a change of plan to reopen. The main goal is having a plan to execute.

Usually, military people transitioning to civilian life or vets have saved enough come to me when starting a new business. I would say that energy and enthusiasm is always enjoyable to work with, but as any small business owner can tell you there are other stresses. The stress of making it work. Stress of work-life balance. The stress of moving out of state. Sadness of closing down.

Just remember that there are all these resources not only to help start the business, but helping you move through your life of owning a business. For an attorney’s part, we do help with the formation, but also advising strategic decisions, which may or may not be tied to the business. One particular situation I see is military families starting a business here and then moving back to their home state. The question is what to do with the Hawaii-based business. This one-sheet should answer some preliminary questions, but as always you probably want to speak directly to an attorney for planning. Why? There is no one size fits all plan for every type of business owner. However, gaining key advice helps with strategic planning and I feel that veterans know the value of having a plan.

Finally, I would like to extend a big mahalo to all of the veterans (and to the family members that support them) for your dedication and service to your country. Thank you.

– RKH

DISCLAIMER: This post provides general information, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in the post without seeking the advice of  an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

2nd Anniversary

What’s Going On with Our 2nd Anniversary

It is our 2nd Anniversary and we are celebrating by inviting you to our Open House! If you are in the Honolulu area on Thursday, November 1st then stop by our offices to meet with us, our staff, and learn something. We will be conducting five (5) free seminars throughout the day. I, Ryan K. Hew, will be doing various business law topics meant for small business owners. My partner, Trejur P. Bordenave, will be going over the basics of personal injury and making a claim.

2nd Anniversary

Join us on November 1st for our free seminars!

Sign Up at EventBrite

So if you are interested in:

  • Internet and Social Media Law for Small Business Owners
  • Contracts for Small Business Owners
  • Forming a Business Entity
  • Plaintiff’s Injury Claims: What to do if you get hurt

Then please find the details and sign-up at Eventbrite. Also throughout the day, if you want to swing by and say hi or sign up for an initial consult for another date and time that would be great too.

Thanks and see you around!

-RKH

Ryan Responds trade name vs trademark

Is a Trade Name and a Trademark the Same Thing, or are They Different?

In this Ryan Responds video, what are the differences between a trade name and a trademark. Short answer: they are different. Much of the confusion comes up nowadays when people are registering their business and trying to come up with the marketing and advertising for it. This is especially true when you add in the registration of domain names and social media accounts; this shall be a future post when it comes to branding strategy and protection in our interconnected world. However, for today’s topic we are focused on just trade names and trademarks.

Critical for Business Owners to Understand for their Marketing and Branding Strategy

If you are launching a new business, then you really need to grasp the difference between these abstract legal terms. It will impact your naming and registration strategy for the business and its brands before you launch. Why? Because you will do a lot of market research prior to registering your business and applying for trade names and trademarks.

I’ve seen many new business owner fail to grasp these intellectual property and business registration issues; they then go through all this energy and expenditure planning for the naming and marketing of their business, only to pay the price in changing registrations and applications, taking down their advertising, and basically upending their whole marketing strategy. They have to rethink their branding. As always it is best to do some research and speak to an attorney prior to taking any action that could make you liable, especially if you are unclear about intellectual property infringement.

Finally, in addition to the video below we provide a one-sheet on the same topic for your reading.

 

If You have a Question for Future Ryan Responds Videos …

Finally, if there is a short question you want the answer to submit them to admin@hewbordenave.com with the Subject line “Ryan Responds”. Please keep your questions short, general, and related to a business topic. Please do not provide specific details of  your matter or attempt to seek direct and specific legal advice through this format. If you need assistance and legal services, then please schedule a consultation with an attorney in your relevant jurisdiction.

If your matter is located in the Hawaii or California jurisdictions, then feel free to reach out to us to schedule an initial consultation here.

Thanks for watching!

RKH

Disclaimer: The content of this video is for general information purposes only. Nothing should be taken as legal advice for an individual cases or situations. The viewing of this video does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney in your relevant jurisdiction.

Between work and life.

Chefs and their Work-Life Dilemma: Dinner Service vs. Quality of Living

A friend and a client recently shared a Food & Wine article on their social media. It was entitled “Why So Many Top Restaurants Are Closing for Dinner“. The article was about how restaurateurs and chefs were seeking better work-life balance by opting not to provide dinner service. Instead they would focus on higher quality breakfast and lunch and that would be it.

Closed restaurant.

Can a restaurant owner afford not to be open for dinner?

I love food and of course, as a small business attorney, I like finding new spots to eat. Networking, meeting clients for lunch, and yes, sometimes picking up the owner as a client. Shouldn’t chefs and lawyers be friends? I often joke that I would trade services for food. Legalese in exchange for pasta bolognese! So as a fellow small business owner I do get the appeal of setting your own work hours, especially for the tough life of restaurant owners and chefs. The desire to spend quality time with friends and family, but of course there is a catch – is it cost effective?

Throughout the article there are comments about the economic realities of this operational decision:

“Though it seems like these breezy cafés should allow their owners and chefs to live breezier lives, many struggle to earn a decent living. Diners who don’t blink at a $100 dinner for two balk at lunch tabs that are half that. Lower price-points make it tough for even the busiest daytime restaurants to pay the bills.”

“Nicholas Morgenstern, owner of New York City’s vegetable-centric cafe El Rey, has been avoiding dinner service, but says it’s not sustainable.”

You Not Being Open for Dinner Might Create Opportunities

While I read through this article, I constantly wondered are there missed opportunities or creative solutions? My practice resolves around assisting business partners formalize their relationships. I also review commercial leases for food service and retail clients. So my feeling was: wow, no dinner service?! That is a lot downtime and an empty space not being utilized!

The following ideas are not complete solutions to the work-life balance equation. However, they do give restaurateurs and chefs, or any businesses in a commercial lease setting some options to consider. They may not be suitable for every business owner that is chasing that work-life balance.  Further, they do require a lot of planning and communicating. Executing them also requires all the right pieces, but they may be worth considering if you are a chef (or an overworked small business owner) trying to get to that magical work-life balance ratio.

Ways to Make Full Use of a Space, While Not Being There: Sublease or Partnering

So what struck me about this article is that these restaurants all likely have a lease; it is rare for a new restaurant business owns the property and building. Meaning the restaurateur is entitled to the premises which they are leasing. Kind of obvious, yeah? But, if they choose not to open for dinner, then that creates a possible opportunity, as they are not maximizing the use of the leased space. What do I mean?

Retail and restaurant space for lease.

A tenant that leases a space has a lot of control over the space. When to open, when to close.

In a lease situation, the renter has property rights. While, the tenant does not have superior ownership rights with respect to the property owner, they do lease the premises. Obviously, there the space comes with restrictions and requirements, such as insurance, indemnification, specific-use, rent, but as the business tenant can use the space as they see fit  Therefore, by shutting the space down for dinner, that means the space is down to 2/3rds of its total use time, that is breakfast and lunch. Granted operating for dinner has costs and expenses, but as pointed out in the article dinner service can be a huge revenue generator with higher ticket food items and alcohol sales.

So how do you operate in a space when you do not want to be there? Why not consider subleasing or partnering. Have someone else make use of the premises for the evening, while you are having dinner with your loved ones. Of course this is easier said than done. I will run through the differences between the two and some of the issues, but if all parties involved can come to terms either one may be a workable solution for the chef that wants to go home for the night.

Subleasing: Becoming the Landlord to Your Own Tenant

Subleasing is a situation where there is a lease in place and the tenant leases out the space to another tenant below them. The legal relationship would look like this: landlord <– (lease) –> primary tenant <– (sublease) –> subtenant.  The primary tenant acts like a mini-landlord to the subtenant. This would mean that the primary tenant, who only wants to operate for breakfast and lunch would lease out the space for dinner time to another business. Thus the premises are used throughout the day and everyone is happy, right?

Issues with Subleasing: Caught in the Middle

Hold on! It is not that simple. Remember I mentioned there is a lot of planning and communicating? First, is there even a market for another business who wants to sublease the space? Sometimes. Obviously, it depends on your city, but consider that there are food truck owners who may want to test out their food in a restaurant setting and they need a certified kitchen in some cities because of food safety laws. Other times newly-minted chefs want to do pop-ups or pastry chefs would like to focus on doing a dessert bar.  You will have to ask around. Time to use those networking skills of yours!

Second, is the landlord even going to go for this? Depends. Commercial leases almost always have anti-assignment, subleasing, etc … clauses. These provisions make it so that the tenant cannot convey any property rights (such as the act of leasing and using the premises) to another party without the consent of the landlord. It would violate the lease if the tenant did entered into the sublease without the landlord’s approval. So if you did find another party willing to sublease, then you would need to work with your landlord first before formalizing with your subtenant. Sometimes the landlord would make you co-tenants or have the subtenant make a personal guarantee; for them it is all about the risk.

Even if your landlord lets you sublease are you ready to manage your own tenant?

Other issues with commercial leases and subleasing are where is your restaurant located? Often times for malls there are certain operational hours that a business can be open for. If you are intending to sublease for dinner service and that subtenant wants to sale alcohol, they will have to get a liquor license which are often tied to zoning laws. In addition, if the subtenant is going to do a food service that is different than yours, like I mentioned the dessert bar, are there specific-use clauses in the lease? Mall owners tend to want to limit the kind of services depending on size and location as they do not want their businesses to directly compete with each other. Other times large national brands force the mall owner to allow them to be the only type located at the mall.

Finally, you are acting as a landlord to this subtenant. They are a separate business. So that means they have to get their own insurance. Furthermore, as the middle person between your landlord and them, you are responsible to both of them. If your subtenant messes up, say missing rent to you or they burn down the kitchen, then you still will be on the hook to your landlord. On a personal note too, I know with many chefs if it is their kitchen it is their rules. If you are leasing out your kitchen to another how will you tell them to use your equipment and tools? Will you even allow them to? Again, lots of planning and communicating.

Partnering: Two Chef Owners are Better than One

So maybe subleasing is not for you, as you do not want to be a landlord. What about having a partner? Maybe you have an upcoming protégé or work well with someone who want to focus/specializes in dinner, but does not want to manager their own independent business.

Partnering, when you have a business entity, a LLC or a corporation, means having a business partner join in as an equity partner by offering them ownership/membership interest or stocks/shares, respectively.  Especially, with LLCs, members (the owners of the LLC) have a lot of flexibility in designing the partnership arrangement.

Two chefs back-to-back.

Two chefs might mean that the restaurant stays open, that is if they can come to terms of agreement.

Consider that for some doctors’ groups that operate as a partnership they cover each other;  say one doctor wants to go on vacation, well then the others would cover their work thus guaranteeing continual operation and coverage for medical services. Similarly, for the restaurant, one chef partner agrees to provide breakfast and lunch, while the other does dinner. Another option may be it is on an alternating basis, where one chef does breakfast, lunch, and dinner for one week and then it changes to the other partnering chef the next. There are a lot of options to the division of labor.

What about the money? With LLCs, they are flexible in having the “keep what you kill method” via their Operating Agreements. Each member would take a share of the money based on how much they brought in. Partnering lawyers sometimes consider this method when they just want to share in the expenses of the firm, but would like to be responsible for how much they bring in. So for a chef working only during the day, then they would get the money from the sales of breakfast and lunch. So course the chef who opens for dinner gets the profit from the dinner service. Even if they are 50/50 members in the restaurant LLC that does not mean they have to split the profits 50/50. LLCs are flexible business entities. Obviously, for this method to work, you need a good accountability system.

*While a corporation remains a possibility, usually much more goes into such a relationship, such as tax and accounting planning, use of employment agreements, and drafting of specific corporate governance documents.

Issues with Partnering: Are You Ready for Business Divorce?

So again, just opening your business entity and suddenly having a partner is not at all what it is cracked up to be. First, often times when launching a food business many chefs do not have the funds to open their restaurant. They need a financial backer. Whoever is funding them, is either a formal partner already or have a loan to the restaurant. Either way, adding a new person to the mix is something a financial backer may be concerned about.

Second, even if you get the money situation squared away to what is deemed “fair” between the partnering chefs there are still a host of other issues. They may or may not have an equal say in running the business. Even if you are majority partner and they are the junior partner, how long will they keep working with you if you keep overriding all their decisions or input? Can there two chefs use the same kitchen? What about branding? In this scenario, you do not have two separate businesses, but just the one. So personalities, visions, goals, and even styles of may not be aligned. Even if you both have a unified vision, what about consistency and quality? If the breakfast and lunch food items are awesome, but dinner services are subpar, you can only imagine what the Yelp reviews will say …

Partnering is not for everyone and is not someone should do seeking a quick fix for business issues as business divorce is not pretty.

If clients come to me and they want to talk to me about partnering, then my first question to them is: are you ready to be married? Having a  partner means making a lot of decisions together. Decisions where money is involved, how to split it up profits or how much to contribute to pay for expenses. You will be discussing marketing, finance, accounting, and HR issues. So if work ethics and personalities clash, then you will be looking at business divorce. Your pursuit of a work-life balance may turn into a nightmare if nothing is in writing. Business divorces can be costly in terms of time and money. I’ve seen situations where it takes months (years) before former partners even agree to the value of their contributions and the business itself; this says nothing of the payment process of a buyout. Again, planning/communicating is key, then documenting it.

One Last Bite on this Topic

Sometimes going out and networking is best to float ideas and opportunities, especially with a trusted adviser or mentor.

All of this is not to frighten off a chef making the personal decision of limiting their operating hours. However, like the article points out dinner is a revenue generator. So then the question becomes is there another way to maximize the leased space? I’ve offered a sampling of some creative solutions, but yes, subleasing may not be an option with a stringent landlord. For partnering, maybe you are seeking work-life balance to spend more time with your spouse, but you may be getting a business spouse. Can you juggle both?

Consider that closing down for dinner service might be a business opportunity for another who wants a shot at it. While there are no free lunches in these scenarios, try sharing a meal with a trusted adviser or two, or maybe a mentor or peer. It never hurts to ask, especially when your goal is to spend time with loved ones. Cheers and bon appétit!

-RKH

DISCLAIMER: This post provides general information, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in the post without seeking the advice of  an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

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What Should go in your Operating Agreement?

In this Ryan Responds video, I go over some of the more important items that an Operating Agreement should cover. While, not an exhaustive list, it is illustrative of the conversations LLC members and managers should have with one another. Business partners should strive to have this organizational document meet their expectations. It is a contract after all.

We also provide a one-sheet if you would like to read more about Operating Agreements. Finally, if you have any questions about reviewing, drafting, or even disputing an operating agreement please contact us or an attorney in your relevant jurisdiction for an initial consultation.

If You have a Question for Future Ryan Responds Videos …

We launched this on a YouTube channel, as we hope to publish educational videos on other topics in the future. Finally, if there is a short question you want the answer to submit them to admin@hewbordenave.com with the Subject line “Ryan Responds”. Please keep your questions short, general, and related to a business topic. Please do not provide specific details of  your matter or attempt to seek direct and specific legal advice through this format. If you need assistance and legal services, then please schedule a consultation with an attorney in your relevant jurisdiction.

Thanks and Cheers!

RKH

Disclaimer: The content of this video is for general information purposes only. Nothing should be taken as legal advice for an individual cases or situations. The viewing of this video does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney in your relevant jurisdiction.