A Very Public Affair

Left to right: Doug Allison, Leah Chase, and Roz Mallet.
Left to right: Doug Allison, Leah Chase, and Roz Mallet.

NRA's annual conference stirs emotions, raises awareness on the 'Hill'

The National Restaurant Association’s 26th annual Public Affairs Conference had all the elements of an award-winning movie: drama, tears, and large doses of inspiration.

The main event featured more than 500 restaurateurs from 45 states descending on Capitol Hill in a full-throttle effort to bring the industry’s message to our nation’s legislators.

This year’s theme, America Works Here, is part of the NRA’s 2012 narrative, and it wasn’t wasted on scores of U.S. representatives and senators. They heard about it from prominent foodservice operators who had traveled to Washington on April 16-17 from their home states.

To help the restaurateurs get in a Washington “state of mind,” there were a few prominent speakers from both sides of Congress, including Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio; Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La.; Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Ill.; and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

While Boehner was addressing the group, servers and other restaurant workers from ROC United (Restaurant Opportunities Centers United), protested that the wage rate for tipped workers of $2.13 has not been raised since 1991 by singing and dancing in flash mob style right outside the ballroom, which added a dramatic element to the conference.

Taking the Hill with members of the Georgia Restaurant Association, including Karen I. Bremer, executive director, and Patrick Cuccaro, the executive director and chairman of the association, proved more than interesting. The group of operators from Atlanta and beyond came well prepared, imploring Georgia elected officials to support the industry’s stance on such legislation as a permanent 15-year depreciation schedule for restaurant improvements and construction, further reforms in the debit/credit card swipe-fee market, modifications to the health care law, and blockage of the National Labor Relations Board “ambush” election rule.

But the night before restaurateurs took their message of job creation and advocacy for pro-growth strategies to their elected officials, there was plenty of inspiration to ensure they went off with hearts full of pride.

At a gala dinner celebrating diversity and community, seven awards were bestowed, and most in the audience shed a tear or two when the recipients came to the stage after each video, which detailed their singular achievements.

Held at the Renaissance Downtown on April 17, the event featured four Restaurant Neighbor Awards, sponsored by American Express, and three American Dream Winners, which were sponsored by PepsiCo Foodservice.


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