Part II: NRA outlines industry imperatives

Sept. 20, 2009
Living near fast food locations increases the risk of obesity.   Cars idling at drive-thrus create pollution.   Tax on soft drinks could fund health care reform.   Judging by the headlines, the industry just can't get a break these days. The National Restaurant Association is all too aware of these and other challenges operators face every day. That's why the organization is increasing its efforts to lead the solution on health, environmental and governmental issues.   The NRA's latest five-year strategic plan includes four imperatives to improve how restaurants deal with these issues. The association's intent is to drive change not only within the organization but also within the industry. Last week, addressed the plan's Jobs and Careers imperative. Today, we take a look at the remaining three: food and healthy living; sustainability and social responsibility; and profitability and entrepreneurship.   Food and Healthy Living   The NRA wants to be involved in the food chain from "farm to fork" to meet the growing demands of safety and nutrition. Its goals in this imperative include:
  • Increasing food safety and security in the restaurant industry
  • Increasing restaurant nutrition information, availability and consumer awareness
  • Improving public perceptions of the restaurant industry relating to food and healthy living
The association has long focused on food safety, from its ServSafe certification products to its lobbying for tighter regulations governing the food chain. But there is still more to do in those areas and others, said Dawn Sweeney, the association's president and CEO.   For example, the association needs to lobby for legislation that meets consumer demands in areas like nutritional issues, including obesity and sodium content, she said. It also needs to be part of the public dialogue on such topics, meeting with groups such as the American Heart Association.   The association also needs to better tell the story of its efforts to promote healthy lifestyles, Sweeney said. The NRA already has taken some steps in this area, such as its sponsorship of, a site that lists member restaurants' better-for-you options and offers tips on nutrition.   Operator steps: Operators also need to do their part. Many restaurants offer at least one better-for-you menu item, enough for inclusion on the Healthy Dining Finder site. Sweeney said the goal is for every restaurant in the country to be listed.   Many pizzeria operators are already taking such steps. Uno Chicago Grill restaurants, for example, feature in-store kiosks which offer nutritional information.
  Sustainability and Social Responsibility   With this imperative, the association is calling on the industry "to meet the opportunity of sustainability and philanthropy head on," according the NRA's strategic plan. The goals include:
  • Improving efficiency of water and energy usage and adopting other sustainable practices in the restaurant industry
  • Increasing public awareness of charitable activities by the restaurant industry
  • Improving public perceptions of the restaurant industry relating to sustainable practices and social responsibility
"We can do a lot to make this industry more sustainable," Sweeney said. "If we help the environment and it helps the individual, that can have an impact on the bottom line as well."   Operator steps: Some operators are already taking such steps. Companies such as Pizza Fusion have incorporated their sustainability practices into their marketing efforts, and several of the company's restaurnts have received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification for several of the company's restaurants.
  Profitability and Entrepreneurship   The industry operates on some of the tightest margins in business, and any change in the tax burden can have significant consequences. This imperative focuses on reducing some of that burden. It also seeks to encourage more people to become restaurateurs. The goals of this imperative include:
  • Increasing restaurant industry profitability
  • Improving the success rate for new and established restaurant operators
  • Improving public perception of the restaurant industry relating to entrepreneurship and opportunity
The NRA has always worked to help operators improve their margins by lobbying Congress on a variety issues and tax laws. Its focus now, Sweeney said, is to make clear to legislators how tight the industry's margins are and how operators are hurt by the increasing number of regulations.   Operator steps: Operators can help the NRA's effort by working with their state association. 
One key area of concern for pizzeria operators is the issue of menu labeling. By working with their state associations, operators can make legislators aware of the impact of menu labeling laws. 
  Sweeney said she recognizes the industry's diversity of segments and categories. Along with its immense size, that diversity is not only a challenge but also a strength. Yet that size and the industry's economic contributions allow the association to accomplish more as it works to address its issues.  
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As the NRA works to execute its strategic plan — realigning its staff, hiring new talent, revamping its Web site and working with the state associations — Sweeney said she continues to see evidence that the association is on track. The association's priorities may evolve as the strategic plan is implemented, but it's clear the NRA has identified the right imperatives.   "There's not a single issue that hasn't had a place in this plan," she said. "I remain confident the plan is right."   *This is the final installment in our series on the NRA's five-year strategic plan.   Read also NRA outlines initiatives for implementing imperatives and NRA outlines industry imperatives.

Topics: National Restaurant Association , Operations Management

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