Being the Chairman of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association Board of Directors has been an experience that I will cherish the rest of my life. As Chair I have had the opportunity to attend many different chapter meetings, small and large. They have all been a great learning opportunity. I’ve met many different restaurant owners from around the state who have contributed good ideas on how to make the WRA the best organization for members.
Let me share highlights from a couple of the chapter meetings that I attended during my term. The Blackhawk Chapter (Chapter President Chico Pope) had an excellent meeting with a delicious lobster boil with 78 members in attendance. The La Crosse Chapter (Chapter President Tina Tryggestad) held a golf outing and Vegas Night, both of which had a great attendance. The Big Four Chapter (Chapter President Bruce Petrie) held a golf outing that raised a lot of money for WRA. The Southeast Chapter (Chapter Area Rep. Dick Rudin) held a meeting at the House of Gerhard with a presentation on why and how to create your own brand. I want to thank each and every chapter for their hospitality and the great job that they are doing. I hope they keep it up.
The WRA and the WRA Education Foundation have many events during the year. The largest event, the Wisconsin Restaurant Expo held at the Delta Center in Milwaukee, is coming up! The dates are March 11-13, 2013. This event welcomes both WRA members and non-members from all segments of the foodservice industry. This year, Monday’s Keynote Speaker is Donald Driver and Tuesday’s Keynote Speaker is Chef Rick Tramonto.
I would encourage every member to bring at least two non-members to the show so they can experience the excitement. At this show you can see all the new ideas and products in the industry.
Another event is WRA Lobby Day, which is held at the Monona Terrace in Madison, April 10, 2013. The event starts with great speakers and then on to the Capitol to meet with all of your state legislators. This is where you can be heard and make a difference. Please plan on attending and invite a non-member to join you too—the more people, the more impact we’ll have on legislation that affects your business.
Please remember to use all the benefits that the WRA provides for you. As a WRA member you are also a member of the National Restaurant Association and have access to all of its benefits too. One phone call to the WRA Hotline can justify the cost of belonging to the WRA. If the WRA staff does not know answer right away, they will research it and help you get your questions answered and problems solved.
I would like to say thank you to my two restaurant managers and my entire staff, the West Wisconsin Chapter of the WRA, all of the state board members, Ed Lump, WRA President & CEO, and the entire WRA staff. Without all of you, it would not possible to do the job of the Chairman.
The good news is that people love to dine out and they are doing so more frequently. Even with the tough economy of the last few years and the never-ending stream of advice from “talking heads” to quit dining out to save money, consumers remained reluctant to give up going out to eat. They may have cut back, but they still showed up.
However, there is no question that customers are taking greater interest in how we do business. More and more our customers are willing to voice their opinions, good or bad, not to the restaurant—but to the world through websites like Yelp, Open Table, etc. There is also no question that people love reading the comments on these sites and many make their decisions based on those comments. Restaurateurs no longer have to wait for the local restaurant critic to show up and do a review. The reviews of customers are instant, and carry weight.
The public is also very interested in the publicity (good or bad) our industry and individual restaurants receive. Foodborne illness is bad—charitable giving is good. Recognition for cleanliness is good. Being the subject of a Department of Labor or an IRS audit is bad. In addition, the public is more knowledgeable about restaurant best practices that ever before. A lot of this is because of the Food Network and other media outlets. All of this doesn’t make customers experts, but more of them think they are. This is a new version of “the customer is always right.”
In addition to heightened consumer interest, government and consumer activists seem bent on conducting, what I call, a war on restaurants. The Wisconsin Restaurant Association and the National Restaurant Association always had our share of battles on issues like minimum wage, child labor, specialized taxes, etc. We still have these issues, but now it seems that restaurants are being blamed for causing obesity, hypertension, diabetes and other health issues. The result is proposed laws at every level of government to regulate restaurants. Municipalities are proposing bans on certain types of restaurants in selected neighborhoods. Others are regulating the size of soft drinks. There is talk of a fat tax, a sugar tax and a salt tax (weren’t the salt and sugar taxes among the reasons for breaking from England?).
Let’s not forget implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
I was a restaurant owner and the thought of having to deal with all of this on my own is overwhelming. Besides running a business, this is a lot to cope with. Fortunately, you are not alone. WRA and NRA are conducting a very aggressive defense of our industry both in government and the media. We are the best source of information for restaurants on how to comply with laws and regulations. I have often asked myself why any restaurateur would ever go to a source other than WRA/NRA for information? You are our only business! No one is going to understand how laws and regulations apply to your business better than us.
The time has long passed when restaurant owners could sit on their hands and avoid becoming involved or informed. The time for the excuse of not having time to watch a webinar or attend a local meeting or an industry trade show has passed. The government, the media and the public simply won’t accept the excuse of not knowing.
The Wisconsin Restaurant Expo is March 11-13 in Milwaukee (visit www.everythingfoodservice.org to register or learn more). WRA’s Hotline number is 800-589-3211. Check out WRA’s website at
www.wirestaurant.org and the NRA’s at www.restaurant.org to find out what’s happening.
If you are not a WRA member—JOIN. Knowledge is power to you. You, as part of your association, is power to us in your defense.
There is a saying: “You are either at the table or you are on the menu.” It has never been more applicable.