National Restaurant Association welcomes new public affairs EVP

Sean Kennedy brings more than 20 years of policy and advocacy experience to the table.
Sean Kennedy

National Restaurant Association President and CEO Dawn Sweeney announced in May that the organization had successfully concluded a national search for its top public affairs executive. 

Sean Kennedy joined the Association in June as EVP of public affairs. He leads the Association’s advocacy initiatives, federal and grassroots lobbying efforts, and policy economic analysis for the $863 billion restaurant industry. He also leads the Association’s litigation strategy through the Restaurant Law Center.

Kennedy most recently served as SVP, global government affairs, for Airlines for America (A4A), the group representing the leading U.S.-based passenger and cargo airlines, where he achieved a series of bipartisan legislative victories amid a divided Congress. His background includes service to former Sen. Claire McCaskill, former Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt and in the Obama administration.

We talked with Sean about his outlook and priorities.

Serving an industry that serves: The restaurant industry is unlike almost any other. It’s part of the fabric of our country, and serves millions of customers every day with a record of safety and guest service that is almost taken for granted. It’s also an industry in which policymakers are superusers of the product … and frequently tell you they understand your business model better than you do. And it’s an industry where you are always just one bad viral video away from nine months of crazy regulatory ideas in a dozen states.

Playing offense: Restaurants are a job-creating dynamo. They are developing the next generation of leaders and provide a level of service and safety that is the envy of the world. But restaurants often need to play defense a lot more than seems fair at the federal and local level. My priority is to work with our members and state partners to advocate for a legislative, regulatory and litigation strategy that expands our coalitions and finds compromise when possible—but that plays offense even more, and defense when needed.

Telling our story: From an advocacy side, there is only one play that matters: defining the narrative in a way that compels policymakers to seek ways to strengthen the restaurant industry, enabling restaurant operators to invest even more in people and customers in every community. Restaurants excel at taking care of their guests. But great restaurant experiences can’t occur unless policymakers get the balance right on policy issues. A highly motivated staff wouldn’t be possible if some of the wage proposals being kicked around are enacted. An updated restaurant interior wouldn’t be possible if Congress doesn’t fix its mistakes on depreciation. And no restaurateur is going to survive if they have to become a multistate regulatory attorney overnight. 

A great start: The National Restaurant Association approaches the challenges and opportunities our industry faces with a tactical sophistication that is the envy of many in D.C. We bring a grassroots network of restaurateurs and employees with incredibly compelling stories about what restaurants mean to every community. We have a first-rate public affairs team, and I look forward to building on the great work.

What others have said about Sean Kennedy:

 “Sean brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the job, and I look forward to working with him.” —Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

“Sean is a great addition to the National Restaurant Association. He is incredibly tactical and is respected on the Hill for being an honest broker and a smart dealmaker.” —Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

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