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How We Got Here: 1970s

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The decade kicked off with an industrywide promotional campaign that would live on for years and whose tagline would ultimately be “borrowed” by the city of Chicago for its tourism promotion efforts: “We’re Glad You’re Here.”

Extraordinary efforts proved necessary. The economy tanked in 1973 and ’74, catching the industry in what was called “stagflation”: a squeeze on margins from a steep drop in sales and a simultaneous vertical climb in costs. Price controls were imposed again by the federal government, once more landing restaurants between a rock and a hard place. 

The nation also suffered both gasoline and beef shortages, chilling the economy. 

Fighting for the industry

During this period, the industry came into its own as a lobbying force, a response to the greater government activism of the era. Every U.S. congressman was put on a mailing list to receive National Restaurant Association materials. Twenty-five directors of the Association met at the White House with officials of the Ford administration to air the industry’s concerns about the burdens of overregulation and ill-conceived legislation. 

Yet the burdensome measures kept coming. A hike in the minimum wage was proposed. Lawmakers looked at the possibility of mandating payment to meat suppliers at the moment deliveries were made. Lawmakers concerned about the federal deficit looked at disallowing the tax credit for business meals consumed in restaurants.

By 1977, government affairs were hands-down the top priority of the industry and its Association. The business scored a number of successes, beating back the proposed cut in business-meal deductions. It also successfully combated a proposal to close all gas stations on weekends and thereby strand many would-be customers at home. With pressure from the National Restaurant Association, the federal capital-gains tax was significantly reduced, protecting operators when they sold their businesses.

With government initiatives increasingly affecting the industry, the National Restaurant Association moved its headquarters from Chicago to the political epicenter of Washington, D.C., where it remains today.

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