What led to the creation of the Hospitality Alliance?
When you look at the vast size and scope of the New York City hospitality industry, it’s larger than many states. There are more than 24,000 eating and drinking establishments in the five boroughs. This industry is an economic engine for New York City and it’s vital to the social landscape. It just made sense for us to have our own, independent organization to serve our city-centric needs and represent our interests in the halls of government and the media.
What was the vision of the founders of the Hospitality Alliance?
Our founders represent many of the prominent restaurant and nightlife operators as well as industry suppliers in New York City. Their prominence was key in getting the organization off the ground. Today, having so many mom-and-pop to midsize restaurants and bars also involved with the organization has been key to our rapid growth. We believed that if we brought all aspects of our industry together under one umbrella organization, we would have a respected political voice. We would advocate to reduce regulatory burdens, present our industry’s perspective on newly proposed laws, and have an organization that provides information, education and services to help the city’s business owners succeed.
When was the Hospitality Alliance launched?
We just celebrated our three-year anniversary, September 24, 2015.
In just three years, this marketplace has really changed. How have the needs of this group changed?
The hospitality marketplace is always changing but some things also stay the same. While the Hospitality Alliance’s advocacy efforts have been incredibly successful in reducing regulatory burdens and fines thus far, business owners still face many old and new struggles. This is why it’s still more important than ever for New York City’s hospitality industry to have our own independent organization to serve us. Over the past three years the need has increased for education on labor law compliance, food safety, and how technology and real estate are affecting our industry. In addition to our advocacy efforts, a major focus of the Hospitality Alliance is hosting seminars and conferences. We provide the information business owners need to know about and create forums to facilitate conversations that entrepreneurs want to be engaged in. What’s nice is that we’ve been able to bring so many industry people to the table so we have a real brain trust of experience, opinions, and perspectives that elevates our industry. These incredible people allow the Hospitality Alliance to have a proactive and meaningful approach when addressing all of the issues impacting the industry.
What has enabled the Hospitality Alliance to strike a chord with a younger constituency?
The demographics of the hospitality industry have been changing, it’s true. I love nothing more than seeing an old-timer chatting it up with someone new to the business. The restaurant group phenomenon, in which one company operates multiple different concepts has certainly helped us strike that chord. These groups, in addition to the owner, now have human resource professionals, directors of operation, marketing professionals, CFOs, COOs, GMs and many more who want to get together and be part of an industry organization. They enjoy our seminars because they’re timely and relevant. They like knowing there’s a strong voice representing them in front of government. When we created this organization, it was important that the industry felt that the Hospitality Alliance moves at their pace and is a part of their culture. We may be a not-for-profit organization, but we have an entrepreneurial spirit that is very pro-active, not reactive. It’s important to be responsive to our members’ needs. If there’s a change in the law that the restaurant industry needs to know about, we’ll immediately issue an alert explaining what it means for their business. But it’s not all rules and regulations. We like to have fun of course. Instead of a traditional gala dinner, we host our Friends and Family cocktail parties. And our Ping Pong Slam is a tournament where restaurant and nightlife operators network and compete outside of the restaurants. We try to keep everything we do fresh and embrace the vibrancy of our industry.
How do you perceive the needs of corporate sponsors and how do you answer them?
We call them partners because that’s the type of relationship we want to forge with them. Getting involved with the Hospitality Alliance is a great way for companies to support their clients. Our Friends and Family cocktail parties and The Ping Pong Slam are a unique opportunity for our partners. At these events, they hangout with potential clients and also get to foster their existing relationships in an exclusive and fun environment.
How is the Hospitality Alliance dealing with the foam packaging ban that goes into effect on January 1?
Many of our members have already transitioned to more eco-friendly packaging before this ban took effect, so it has a limited impact on most of our membership. Working with city government, we were able to ensure that the law allowed for a hardship exemption for the very small businesses. We’re supportive of our environment, but when the city is passing regulations, they have to be conscious of their impact on our business community, especially the smallest businesses.
What about the October 1 EMV chip technology regulation?
One of the concerns here is that many business owners may not even be familiar with EMV and the new liability they may be subject to.
What solutions are available to meet EMV requirements, or is there a lack of options in the market?
Unfortunately, so much of the burden and liability ends up falling on small business owners’ shoulders without a seamless way to always comply. So we strongly encourage our members to speak with their POS and merchant providers, and lawyers to best understand their options.
What are some of the common characteristics of the people who succeed in this business?
They’re passionate and have the entrepreneurial spirit. The hospitality gene runs through their blood! This is a crazy industry – nights, weekends, holidays, low profit margins, high stress – so to make it and to be successful you have to be passionate, hard working and relentless.
What makes the restaurant business different from other businesses?
It’s an industry where the bar for entry is low but there’s no ceiling on success. It’s an industry where people from all walks of life can start as a server, dishwasher or cook and become a manager or owner. And that’s the norm, not the exception.
You’ve spent a lot of time with the city council people, Bloomberg, de Blasio. What’s the role of the city council relative to our industry? How does the Hospitality Alliance push this relationship ahead?
When you speak with elected representatives they always say how important our local restaurants are, how important small businesses are to our communities. While I believe they’re being honest, well intentioned, and some have been helpful, we want to see them push for more substantial changes to the regulatory environment. There’s more that can be done to reduce regulatory burdens on small business owners so they can continue to operate great restaurants, employ local people and add to the greatness of New York City. One of the ways we at the Hospitality Alliance turn words into action is by meeting with government representatives. We explain the different challenges their constituents face running restaurants in their districts, we present solutions to reduce those burdens, and suggest initiatives the city can implement to promote the growth of existing and new restaurants.
Where are we with the letter grading?
We’ve been successful advocating for a reduction in fines by tens of millions of dollars at various city agencies and reducing some of the burdens posed by the Letter Grade System. But there is still more work to be done. We believe Mayor de Blasio’s administration must further reduce burdens associated with the Letter Grade inspection system without jeopardizing public health.
How do you assess the future and the growth of the restaurant industry?
It’s amazing to see how the hospitality industry is evolving and the positive economic and social development it’s spurred in so many neighborhoods. When we talk about commercial/residential development these days there always seems to be a restaurant component because developers understand that New Yorkers, tourists and businesses want a vibrant hospitality industry around them. For so long, in many hotels and office buildings, food and beverage was just an amenity, non-existent or an afterthought. But now it’s the driving force. People are going to hotels not to even stay in a room but instead to eat at the restaurants and drink at their bars.
The International Motel Hotel and Restaurant Show has now changed its name to HX: The Hotel Experience, with its new slogan, “From Rooms to Restaurants.” How do you think this will affect the hospitality environment?
Hotels are more of a draw when they have incredible food and beverage options for overnight guests and for the people living and working in the neighborhood. We’re living in a foodie culture and chefs are the new rock stars. So it makes good sense for the hotels to have great food and beverage programs. It also provides opportunities for the restaurant industry to open new establishments in hotels, both locally and around the world. I’m sure we’ll continue to see this trend.
How can people get in touch with you?
We’re very hands on and we’re out and about so if you see us at an event please say hi. Or go to www.theNYCalliance.org, email info@theNYCalliance.org, or find us on Twitter at @theNYCalliance and @AndrewRigie. Join the Hospitality Alliance. The more members we have, the better we can serve the industry.