Sunday, September 17, 2006

'When did the industry stop beating its spouse?'

If the Democrats take control of the U.S. House of Representatives this November, as many pundits predict, what can the restaurant industry expect from the presumably anti-business shift in power? Perhaps not what you’d think.

The victory would likely be a squeaker, not the sort of rout that would enable the Dems to ramrod sweetheart legislation through the system, according to John Gay, who heads up lobbying for the National Restaurant Association (and hence for the industry as a whole.). In a briefing with Nation’s Restaurant News at our New York headquarters last week, Gay speculated that the new Congressional captains would have a tough time mustering sufficient votes to pass controversial measures like healthcare mandates.

But, he warned, the industry may still feel plenty of heat, much of it radiating from TV cameras and blistering attacks in newspaper op-ed pages. The Democrats would likely use their control of the committee system to schedule high-profile hearings on exposed-nerve issues pertaining to restaurants, like acrylomides, the suspected carcinogen that can be found in French fries, or obesity, and specifically how soft drinks might contribute to the problem. He asserted that restaurant executives could be summoned to the Hill for a public grilling or the forced application of a black hat. Ditto for some suppliers. The battle would shift from pushing legislation that makes the industry wince, to fostering an impression that the trade kicks puppies.

The antidote, speakers agreed during the NRA’s Public Affairs Conference earlier in the week in Washingon, is getting involved, at least to the point of casting a vote. Or as Richard Snead put it, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Snead was speaking as chairman of the NRA’s SAFE initiative, a grassroots lobbying program that you’ll no doubt be reading about more frequently in Nation’s Restaurant News as we get closer to the elections. His day job is running Carlson Restaurants Worldwide, the mega-sized parent of T.G.I. Friday’s and Pick Up Stix.

That sounds like a nearly overwhelming job. And yet he’s assumed the added duties of overseeing a $2 million political-action fund. And he asserts, very convincingly, that his political efforts may have to extend considerably beyond that role. As he puts it, “I will not let unreasonable legislation upset the growth of our company.”

You may not agree with the industry’s pro-Republican slant. But it’s hard to argue with Snead and other leaders about the importance of acting on your convictions, at least to the point of learning the issues and responsibly placing a vote.

You can find a roundup on the industry-specific matters at the NRA’s website,

1 comment:

  1. I am an industry professional (a cook) and I am a Democrat. For over 13 years, I have endured a lack of health insurance, inconsideration for single parents and downright chauvenism. But I stuck with it because cooking is my passion, but to have the NRA take a overall stand against health care mandates, higher wages and other issues in the industry irritates me when there is such a shortage of good, strong, and experienced workers. The hospitality industry is perhaps the largest industry in the world but it is also the one with the least amount of living wage jobs and offered or even affordable healthcare. I am an advocate of mandated healthcare and I am an advocate of higher wage jobs. One of the reason this industry has a hard time holding on to employees is the lack of either of these.