The National Restaurant Association is devoting much of its efforts to revamping the way it does business as it implements its latest five-year strategic plan. As reported on PizzaMarketplace.com earlier this week, the plan includes four industry imperatives on the topics of jobs and careers, food and healthy living, sustainability and social responsibility, and profitability and entrepreneurship.
The plan also includes six initiatives developed by the association to maximize the plan's impact. They include:
Building a compelling member proposition
The NRA's goal with this initiative is to incorporate more member interaction as it develops benefits, such as operator tools, to meet the industry's needs. Dawn Sweeney, the association's president and CEO, said that the association also needs to improve on communicating its membership value to the industry.
"We need to be able to articulate to our members the benefits of membership," from the association's research and products to its political lobbying efforts, she said.
Those communication efforts also include revamping the association's Web site, which should make the association's work and plans more accessible to members. For example, the four imperatives in the strategic plan are now tabs on the site.
The association also is focusing on increasing its membership, and its efforts are already paying off, Sweeney said. While many organizations have seen their memberships drop during the recession, membership in the NRA during the first half of 2009 increased four times over what it did in all of 2008. The state associations also have experienced a 90 percent renewal rate.
"In general, the association is more needed in times of challenge," she said. Yet tightened increasingly tightened profit margins can make affording membership more challenging. So increasing its membership is a sign the association's efforts are on track.
Create seamless relationships with the state restaurant associations
The U.S. restaurant industry is large and diverse, from the various segments to individual categories and niches within those segments. Meeting the needs of each of the various types of operations is one of the NRA's greatest challenges and requires the help of the state restaurant associations. The organization's goal, then, is to improve communication and better integrate its work with the state associations.
"We understand an industry as large as ours is only as impactful as our ability to represent the entire industry," Sweeney said. "That's why working with the state organizations is so important."
The NRA and the state organizations often take on similar tasks — advocating for the industry, promoting their products and communicating with members. When those efforts aren't clearly communicated with one another, they can overlap. Or one group can overlook an issue or effort that's a priority for another.
Jot Condie, president and CEO of the California Restaurant Association, said that cooperative efforts between the state associations and the NRA in the past have been on a case-by-case basis. By sharing information and working together on activities, the different organizations will strengthen their efforts.
Condie said that the state associations can always benefit from the in-depth research the NRA conducts on the industry and use that in their individual state lobbying efforts. Working with the NRA will also help individual state association lobbyists to work together.
"That's where I think the strategic plan is going to be valuable for our industry," he said. "It's going to make our voice louder. It's going to make our activities and our advocacy more efficient."
Develop and grow the association's core products
The NRA's core products include its ServSafe program and its annual trade show. The organization is working to strengthen both as well as create new ones. Sweeney said those new products will be ones that provide services to the industry.
Profits from the ServSafe program and trade show along with member dues fund the association's work. Increasing its membership and offering more products will ultimately strengthen the NRA's research and advocacy efforts, she said.
"As people purchase and invest in these products, the7y're also investing in the future of the NRA," Sweeney said.
Focus the work of the association's foundation on the Jobs & Careers imperative
With the Jobs & Careers imperative the NRA's No. 1 priority, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation has developed a new mission statement to address issues within that category.
The foundation will focus primarily on educational programs as well as marketing career opportunities in the restaurant industry. The NRAEF already sponsors ProStart, a career-building program for high school students interested in culinary arts. Sweeney said that program is successful but could do more to demonstrate the overall benefit of choosing a career in foodservice.
The industry also needs to do more to keep more of its teenage employees to see foodservice as more than an entry-level job. The industry employs a large number of teens, for example, but many of them leave those jobs either before or after college to pursue careers in other industries.
"This is an amazing industry for people who want to grow and work hard," she said. "The problem is they're coming in the funnel at the top, but they're dropping out the bottom."
Integrate issues and activities around the industry imperatives
The association will use the four industry imperatives in its strategic plan as a springboard to manage issues and activities. The goal is to move from a reactive stance to leading the industry on meeting its priorities.
The NRA's revamped Web site is a step in that direction, since it is centered around those imperatives. The site also is intended to be more user friendly and allow members easier access to the association's products, research and information on its political efforts.
Strengthen the association's identity and reputation
With this initiative, the association wants to build its brand to connect to all facets of the industry. That includes bringing together the association's various branded products under one umbrella.
Improving the industry as a whole is also important. For example, each of the four imperatives contains a goal to improve public perception of the restaurant industry as it relates to that topic.
To that end, the association needs to market how the industry as a whole contributes by providing jobs and career experience.
"We need to get better at telling the story," she said.