A scene from the Washington Restaurant Association’s 2002 trade show.
In response to some industry issues, I asked restaurateurs to tell me what they get from their membership in the Washington Restaurant Association. Here are three replies:
As of May, 2006, I am the owner/operator of a small, scratch bakery/cafe in Silverdale. This was a career change for us and while the previous owner was able to help us learn the basics of working IN this particular restaurant, she had zero business sense and was completely unable to help prepare me for working ON the business. I do alot of homework, ask alot of questions, and pretty much make things up as I go along, relying on a great staff, whatever info I can glean from other restaurateurs, and my instincts. I joined the WRA quite frankly for access to the HERO manual (it’s a great resource for those of us who don’t know crap about the legal and administrative stuff, with examples of forms that you need, L&I info, etc…), as well as the one-on-one support that I was able to get when I called with questions and confusion. I began to see early on that a small, independent restaurant owner was not a priority for the WRA on any level.
I renewed my membership primarily because I got a slight feeling of connectedness through it and I still needed that when renewal came up. I decided to be actively involved this year and see if I can get some attention for the little guys by doing so… ever hopeful, eh? I have met people like the owners of Farrelli’s, whose business practices I admire, and some of the really big players in the fine dining world. That part was fun, at least. However, I make far more useful connections by going into restaurants that I admire and talking to the owners and operators.
I attended the annual “Hill Climb” last year and while I had been suspicious of the WRA prior to that event, the knowledge that they are primarily there for the big guys was cemented that day. I spoke to my legislators and expressed MY needs and desires to them, even when they went against the WRA. I have since paid close attention to the issues that the WRA tends to, and the way they go about it, and I will not renew my membership this year. The biggest reason is that they totally ignored the floods last month. Those farmers (our suppliers) and restaurants (peers) are getting lots of support from the farm groups and individual restaurants, but when I called the WRA and asked them what they are doing to help organize relief, or at least pass information along to those who could, they said nothing. I have no idea if any WRA members were affected, the WRA has failed to tell me, and they probably don’t even know.
I will be attending the hill climb again this year (January 28th) so that I can use that forum to speak with my legislators (and lets face it, the reception after is great!), and I intend to have a meeting with Anton about why I am so disappointed in the service they claim to provide. He knows who I am because he has been a customer, and back when they started talking about legislating trans-fats he came in and asked my opinion about it. I told him that, in spite of us being a bakery, we never used trans-fats and I saw no reason to do so. While I am not convinced that the government needs to tell me that I am not allowed to eat them, I do think they should be educating consumers as well as the restaurant industry as much as possible. He did not like that answer and he hasn’t been back to ask me about other issues. It doesn’t stop me from telling them what I think, though.
So in a nutshell, I think that the WRA has some very useful tools for a brand new operator. The manual and other information is very valuable and I would even go so far as to recommend joining to someone like me, who just can’t know that stuff. The average independent will outgrow the WRA quickly and probably leave it behind.
Thank you for asking our opinions, I have recently found this forum and I am trying to find time to check in as often as possible. I am toying with the idea of starting a blog for my customers, and I enjoy reading yours.
Monica S. Downen
Monica’s Waterfront Bakery & Cafe
3472 NW Byron ST
A good deal on credit card processing — that’s why we joined, and why we continue to belong.
Did you know that on the annual dues statement, the total amount requested is the sum of both association dues and a suggested contribution to the WRA political action committee? (They don’t try to hide it — the dues and PAC components of the total are broken out).
The WRA often supports positions and I don’t like, so I just skip the PAC contribution.
Galanga Thai Cuisine, Tacoma
As a new restaurant, I joined the WRA primarily for the L & I savings in their “Retro Safety program”. After you are in the program for more than a year, I have found the savings more than offset the $200+ fee to join the association.
After being out of the restaurant industry for several years, I found the “one stop shopping” for information on Laws, Employment, Liquor, and Safety saved me about two months of trying to get the information, much more than my membership fee. In addition I reduced my credit card fees by using their approved vendor, compared by my bank’s recommended vendor, or Costco.
I never expected the WRA to solve my problems, but I think I have gotten my monies worth, and the membership fee will more than pay for it’s self with the “Retro” program.
Woody’s on the Water, Tacoma