If you're thinking of opening a restaurant in New York State, or expanding, or just have a question about how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) might affect your business, the NYS Restaurant Association has all the answers for you.
According to Chris Hickey, regional director of New York City for the NYS Restaurant Association, the organization has been around since 1935 and, in the 1960's under executive vice president Fred Sampson, became involved in advocacy in government, education and cost-savings benefits to members.
“Under Fred, we began to take a more active role in advocacy – first, the minimum wage order, then the FDA and health standards,” says Hickey.
Over time the membership benefits program was added, which included cost-saving services, as well as education, and when Rick Sampson, Fred's son, took over in 1994, the NYS Restaurant Association grew into what it is today, a huge organization that helps restaurateurs succeed. A year ago, Melissa Autilio Fleischut became president and chief executive officer, moving the association forward strategically, he notes.
“When you get down to brass tacks, we're the official voice for the 50,000 restaurants statewide,” Hickey says. “When you're a member with us, you have a voice in the industry. We fight for you, on the issues. If you want to open a restaurant, you could walk in our doors with no experience, no knowledge of how to run or operate one and we could provide you with all the tools, all the contacts, all the education and you'd be able to run your own restaurant in no time. That's the attitude we create. When you're a member, we're the one-stop shop for restaurants. Our mission is to help restaurants succeed.”
In terms of advocacy, Hickey says there are a lot of issues that restaurants face on a day-to-day basis, like dealing with health departments, environmental protection and in New York City, the consumer affairs bureau, and different regulatory agencies.
“We make sure we're fighting for issues that benefit restaurants,” he says. “We're working right now on a new wage order for the hospitality industry. It's been a big challenge. We're there, giving our testimony, making sure restaurant opinions get heard. We work through government as much as possible to ensure these issues are ruled in our favor at the end of the day. We're here to benefit restaurant owners and the industry. We're the voice for them, putting our best foot forward. We're fighting for your best interests.”
Where education is concerned, when members join the NYS Restaurant Association, they also become members of the National Restaurant Association (NRA), as well. “The NRA has its own education arm, but we do things like the ServSafe responsible alcohol and allergy programs, the ServSafe nationally recognized health regulations program that every restaurant in NYC has to have certification in. We educate restaurants in New York City about all the things they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, like ACA. It's a touchy subject for some restaurants, there are different caveats. We bring in people who specialize in it – this is what you need to do, the requirements you need to fulfill. We had 50 restaurant groups come in,” Hickey says.
This month's program is about do-it-yourself PR. “Create your own marketing and social media presence. We help restaurants do it all.”
The association has also held programs on real estate, how to correctly cost out a menu, beverage solutions, and other important topics.
One of the things the NYS Restaurant Association is most proud of is its Green Hospitality Initiative program. Restaurants which obtain a grant from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) get a free energy audit and the organization can send someone in, look through a restaurant's entire set-up, and find point-by-point opportunities where the restaurant can become a more green operation. “We provide one-on-one training with you, if you want to be part of the initiative,” Hickey says. “It boils down to energy, waste, conservation, making sure you're using the right kind of chemicals, not wasting water, providing energy-efficient solutions and disposing of everything properly, recycling the right items, disposing of grease properly, etc. We really focus on this.”
In Manhattan the NYS Restaurant Association also partnered with the New York City DEP water challenge. “Last year the DEP paired with major hotels in the city and did a 'water challenge' with them. To qualify, you needed to have a water meter from the department installed for at least a year, so you'd have data on your water consumption,” he says. “They challenged the major hotels in New York City to reduce their water consumption by 5 percent, using cost-savings solutions like not washing their sheets as much, not letting their water run, things like that. The hotels wound up reducing their water consumption by more than 5 percent, so now, it was such a success, it's moving on to the restaurant sector,” he says.
“The DEP approached us, so we're developing a guide that allows restaurants to use a bunch of cost-saving solutions to conserve water in their restaurants and challenging those who have this data to reduce their water consumption. We hope it will show other restaurants that they can do this, too. We have a lot of buy-in from members. We're not saving them just money but the environment, too.”
Hickey says the NYS Restaurant Association hopes to have at least 30 restaurants within a year participating in the challenge.
Another benefit of membership is finding out where restaurants can save money in their operations. “It's not sexy, payroll is not sexy. It's not something people find attractive, but payroll is a necessary expense,” he says. “So we partner with a major payroll company and they provide discounted services. We also provide full insurance. We have a whole wing that provides workers comp, health, disability and life insurance. We can save you a considerable amount of money by consolidating everything into our own service,” he says.
Problems with staffing is another solution the organization offers. “It's such a huge subject in the industry. Turnover is rampant, and you have to treat it as a necessary evil. Finding and keeping the right people are the two biggest challenges restaurants face,” Hickey says. “So we pair with a job posting site that provides a link to a trusted source, at a discount, to valuable hospitality professionals.”
Additional benefits include labor consulting, and two law firms that are retained, whose services are discounted for members, as well as merchant services that provide restaurant financing for new equipment, expanding the business, and music licensing, to help restaurateurs be able to play copyrighted music legally in their restaurants.
“We're like a big bear who hugs everybody,” Hickey says. “We're going to help you out and make sure you get everything you need to succeed.”