I’m standing up for the industry. Are you?

As restaurateurs are we our own worst enemy? The question is not meant to be rhetorical. In fact, I hope it spurs conversation and generates answers from many different viewpoints. From my perspective, the answer is an overwhelming yes. And if we don’t change, our industry is at risk of losing its place as a cornerstone of our economy.

I have had the privilege of working in the restaurant industry for over 40 years; it really is the only job I have ever known. From waiting tables for an IHOP franchisee in San Diego to having the honor of leading the world’s largest full-service restaurant company, DineEquity, the restaurant industry has provided me incredible opportunity. There is no other business like foodservice.

Now, all of us that have benefitted from this great industry have an opportunity to serve. I don’t mean serving our communities, I know we’ll continue to do that very well—I don’t know of an industry that is more generous. Instead, I mean serving ourselves, by telling the restaurant story in order to preserve the viability of the restaurant industry. Our elected officials, and the public at-large, must understand how restaurants benefit our economy, our neighborhoods and our lives. The stakes have never been higher.

From health care reform and sodium regulation to minimum wage increases and menu labeling, assaults are coming at us in unprecedented volume.  But it’s not just the volume of legislation, but how this legislation, no matter how well intentioned, will cause irreparable harm to our restaurants, our employees and our industry.

I must admit, probably like many of you, I have not always taken the time to be an advocate. In fact, for me it’s the recent result of a passionate desire to fill a need in our industry.

And that is a real shame. Our industry is being attacked and in many cases the resistance is minimal. Fortunately, some in our industry are already doing an outstanding job; at DineEquity we are joining them and learning from them.

DineEquity is focused on a number of activities including our third annual DineEquity Lobby Day in March. We expect over 200 IHOP and Applebee’s franchisees and team members to join us in Washington to share their stories with our elected officials. I am also working with a number of my industry peers to advocate for responsible and reasonable health care reform.

Our success or failure will be a commentary on each of us and those organizations that look to represent us. While some industries are being lauded for their lobbying efforts, many restaurateurs are passive and seemingly lack the necessary representation to tell our story. After talking to my peers, it’s clear that I am not alone in my thinking.

The situation is far from hopeless. Since my passion for this topic has been ignited I have seen the difference commitment, time and effort can make. We have an incredible story to tell—we just need to tell it. Every way we can. We also must call on associations we support to unite to understand the needs of their members and leverage our collective voice. Simply stated, as representatives of an industry that employs so many, yet is so misunderstood, we need to be active. We need to share the restaurant story from Washington, D.C. to Washington state.

I have accepted the challenge and made it a personal priority. I had to—the consequences of doing nothing are too great. If you are already active, thank you. If you are not, what’s holding you back? Dismissing the threat, a lack of action or a failure to lead will place our industry in peril. Make no mistake. We can resolve our issues, but it will require a concerted effort. From franchisee and CEO to server and GM, each of us has a role to play and a compelling story to tell. In 2011 let’s make sure we are heard.


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