Flashes of political frustration at RLC

Frustration with the federal government bubbled over during a session of the Restaurant Leadership Conference, with attendees angrily complaining to the chairman of the National Restaurant Association about the political process and the group’s role in it.

Participants in a breakout told Roz Mallet point-blank that they didn’t feel the Association was aggressive enough in fighting for restaurants’ interests.

“I came here expecting that you’d provide us with weapons for the battle, because this is war,” said one.

Another expressed surprise that ethanol wasn’t one of what, Mallet, the multi-concept franchisee serving this year as NRA chief, had detailed as top government concerns for the group.

She was also encouraged to have the national association provide more grassroots training for its state affiliates.

Mallet kept her cool, explaining that the struggle in Washington, D.C.,  doesn’t come down to one side overpowering the other.

“Guys, I wish that we could change the way this works,” said Mallet, who was representing the NRA during a presentation entitled Battle Report from Inside the Beltway. “But that’s not the way government works.”

She noted that the task of shaping laws and regulations is complex and difficult at the national level, and stressed that the organization has indeed been aggressive at the right time. She noted, for instance, that the NRA was part of a lawsuit addressing the swipe-fees that credit card companies assess consumers and merchants.

Ethanol production's effects on food costs actually has been one of the Association's primary concerns, an NRA spokesperson said after the session. "With the Association's extensive involvement in the anti-ethanol-subsidy coaltion, we view the expiration of the ethanol subsidy on December 31, 2011 as a major victory for the Association and our industry," she said via e-mail. 

In certain instances, the industry exhausts other options before taking to the trenches, Mallet said. She noted that the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing arguments as she spoke about the constitutionality of the healthcare bill that the Obama Administration pushed through Congress. The nation’s highest court has been asked to decide if the federal government has the right to mandate the purchase of insurance by all Americans. The NRA filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Court.

“I think sometimes that we are waiting for the Supreme Court to overturn the mandate,” she said. “If that doesn’t happen, it’s no holds barred.”

The industry could help itself in the political process by flexing its considerable grassroots might. “Grassroots efforts work more often than not,” said Mallet. “We’d be better if more and more restaurants get more and more involved.”

“We can have a voice, a very powerful voice,” she said.

Mallet is the president of PhaseNext Hospitality, a franchisee of Buffalo Wild Wings and Smashburger. She is serving as chairman of the NRA for the current calendar year. 

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