This week's launch of Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's Public Health Responsibility Deal presents hospitality with an opportunity as well as a challenge.
The deal aims to encourage private companies to take voluntary steps to improve health in the areas of food, alcohol, physical activity and health at work. Food service operators and suppliers are invited to commit to a series of pledges aimed at improving the nation's diet and tempering its growing reliance on alcohol.
The title of Lansley's scheme is telling: the minister wishes to effect a trade-off with industry. If you collectively assume greater responsibility for public health, he is saying, we'll hold off from introducing health-related regulation. It's for this reason that the Department of Health website cosily lists those businesses that have already signed up to some or all of the pledges as Responsibility Deal "partners".
It's in the interest of Government and the taxpayer that public health improves. After all, we cannot continue to underwrite the growing financial burden on the NHS caused by alcohol abuse and poor diet.
But there's another good reason for embracing the Responsibility Deal - your customers want you to. Recent research conducted by Health and Nutrition Catey Award sponsors, Unilever Foodsolutions, revealed that 73% of consumers want to know more about what is in their food when eating out.
The extent to which you adopt the pledges will depend upon the size, type and clientele of your business. One thing's for sure, though: burying your head in the sand is not an option. Government will be watching to see how willing the industry is to embrace the deal. Should it feel our response is not adequate, it will feel forced to explore a statutory route.
Hospitality has long complained at being over-burdened by red tape. Onerous as some of the Responsibility Deal's pledges may seem, compliance with at least some of them provides an opportunity to hold fresh regulation at bay.