Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Give the perfect (tax-deductible) gift this season!

December is upon us. The mall parking lots are packed and traffic is as thick as gravy. Finding the perfect gift for the people in your life can be a daunting task, as we well know. No doubt your list has family members, children and friends of various ages on your list. Some are those that have everything, need something specific or have a desire for an item they would never buy for themselves.

The most challenging by far are those dearly beloveds who buy what they want and need whenever they decide. For those who have it all, what can you possible do to wow them, move them to misty eyes or make them tell their friends?

Here is our favorite “culinary-related” idea—after all, we are the Louisiana Restaurant Association

Bestow the culinary smarts. As the philanthropic foundation of the LRA, the LRA Education Foundation exists to enhance our community through expanded educational and career opportunities. The LRA administers the ProStart program, a two-year, culinary arts and restaurant management curriculum in more than 45 high schools in the state.

Over the last two years, the LRAEF has awarded $80,000 in scholarships to young, aspiring culinarians to study at the college level.  Twice annually, the LRAEF hosts a ProStart Teacher Training to further “educate the educators” bringing in notable chefs, professionals and speakers to inspire, coach and teach them best practices in the classroom and in the kitchen.

Make a donation in someone on your lists’ name and we’ll send them a special holiday note on your behalf. Of course, your gift if tax deductible. Win for you, win for them.

Have a delicious holiday season!

Monday, December 17, 2012

LRA SIF Members to receive $2.7 million in dividends next year

It's workers' compensation coverage renewal time for many restaurant and business owners and the Louisiana Restaurant Association's Self Insurer's Fund for Workers' Compensation (LRA SIF) should definitely be on your list to quote your coverage.

Here's another great reason too. The Board of Trustees for the LRA SIF, during their final board meeting of 2012, voted to return a dividend to eligible members in the amount of $2.7 million to members.

The LRA SIF will have cumulatively returned approximately $99.2 million in surplus dividends and safety dividends to eligible members, having returned all premium not spent on claims or administrative expenses to members since 1988.

For the 25th consecutive year, there is a surplus in unused premium and interest income that can be returned to members. This surplus will be returned to eligible participants from the fund years 2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007 in April 2013.

“In the past two years, most of our workers’ compensation competitors have been implementing significant price increases,” said Stan Harris, President/CEO for the LRA. “In this time of rising claims expense, our recently announced rate decreases are a testament to the great safety practices and lower accident rates of our members. It is because of this that we are able to continue to return a surplus dividend to our SIF participants. Our SIF requires membership in the Louisiana Restaurant Association and we welcome more than 40 independent insurance agents who have joined our program and are utilizing it for the workers’ comp needs for their hospitality clients.”

For 31 years, the LRA SIF has established itself as one of the most secure and respected providers of workers’ compensation insurance in Louisiana. The fund’s continued and consistent commitment to servicing its membership on the highest level will help ensure its future.

To be eligible for a dividend, the member must be in good standing with the LRA and the LRA SIF and have a loss ratio that is equal to or less than 70 percent for the years declared as of March 4, 2013.

The LRA SIF is committed to responsibly operating a fund with its members’ fiscal health as a priority. In October 2012, the LRA SIF announced a rate reduction in the seven most impactful classification codes related to the hospitality industry, effective January 1, 2013. Those codes include: quickservice restaurants, bars, hotels, country clubs, drivers, food manufacturing and convenience stores. A similar rate reduction was also implemented in 2011.

To learn more about how the LRA SIF can help you reduce your workers’ compensation costs and to get a quote, call Babs Schultz at (504) 454-2277 today.

The Louisiana Restaurant Association is one of the largest business organizations in the state, representing restaurant operations and related businesses. The restaurant industry in Louisiana is one the state’s largest private employer, providing jobs to nearly 200,000 residents. Restaurants in Louisiana are expected to generate sales of $6.5 billion in 2012.                    

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Consumer sentiment positive, bodes well for pinched restaurant industry

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) issued its 2013 Restaurant Industry Outlook earlier today, with the fitting theme of “2013: Finding Success in an Uncertain Environment.”

Average Americans, however, aren’t sweating the challenges that business owners will experience next year, according to the December Market Briefing Survey, “The Post-Election Mindset: Cautious Hope,”  by American Express. More than half of consumers surveyed said they expect the U.S. economy to brighten a great deal or somewhat in the next four years.  A brighter future means more restaurant visits.

Next year, Louisiana’s annual restaurant sales are projected to top $6.8 billion, a 3.6 percent increase over 2012’s $6.5 billion, according to the NRA. Nationwide collectively, the nearly one million restaurants will ring up a whopping $660.5 billion in sales, up from $379 billion in 2000.

When asked by Amex, “If your personal financial situation improves, how is that likely to influence your restaurant visits and spending?” 67 percent said they would visit restaurant in general more often. Thirty-seven percent said they would patronize full-service, sit-down restaurants more often.

With a sluggish economic recovery, all-time high food costs, the impending Affordable Care Act enforcement and the deadline looming to extend the Bush/Obama tax cuts to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” restaurants are bracing themselves for even tighter margins.

Making a profit is the goal of every restaurateur. If consumer spending increases, hopefully restaurateurs we’ll have a chance to break even despite the challenges ahead.

Restaurant industry will grow, outpace national job growth in 2013 despite sustained challenges

While the operating environment will remain challenging, America’s 980,000 restaurants are expected to post record sales and continue to be a leading job creator in 2013, according to the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) 2013 Restaurant Industry Forecast released today. Total restaurant industry sales are expected to exceed $660 billion in 2013 – a 3.8 percent increase over 2012, marking the fourth consecutive year of real sales growth for the industry.

In addition, 2013 will be the 14th straight year in which restaurant industry employment will outpace overall employment. Restaurants will employ 13.1 million individuals next year as the nation’s second-largest private-sector employer, representing 10 percent of the total U.S. workforce.

“Despite a continued challenging operating environment, the restaurant industry remains a strong driver in the nation’s economy,” said Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. “Ours is a resilient and flexible industry that continually finds new ways to keep growing, relying on the creativity and innovation exhibited by the entrepreneurial spirit. In 2013, restaurant operators will continue to explore ways of navigating the rocky economic landscape to find the road to success.”

“The fact that the restaurant industry will continue to grow in an operating environment that presents substantial challenges is a testament to the essential role that restaurants play in our daily lives,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president, Research & Knowledge for the National Restaurant Association. “Restaurants are offering products and services that consumers actively seek out and enjoy; an activity in which consumers are selecting to engage despite cash-on-hand restraints because it is an important component of their lifestyle.”

Workforce Outlook
Total U.S. employment grew at a rate of 1.4 percent in 2012, while restaurants added jobs at a strong 3.0 percent rate – more than double the overall rate. In 2013, the NRA expects the restaurant industry to add jobs at a 2.4 percent rate, nearly a full percentage point above the projected 1.5 percent gain in total employment.

Looking ahead, the NRA expects restaurants to add 1.3 million new positions in the next decade, pushing industry employment to 14.4 million by 2023.

Because of this strong growth in restaurant employment, labor challenges will start to reemerge next year. Recruitment and retention, which was a top challenge pre-recession, will make its way back onto restaurant operators’ radar as the U.S. labor pool is starting to become shallower; restaurant operators in all segments expect recruitment and retention to be more challenging in 2013 than in 2012.

Challenges and Opportunities
While the restaurant industry is expected to grow in 2013, operators will continue to face a range of challenges. The top challenges cited by restaurateurs vary by industry segment, and include food costs, the economy and health care reform.

After increasing steadily in the last three years, wholesale food costs will continue on an upward trajectory through 2013, putting significant pressure on restaurants’ bottom lines as about one-third of sales in a restaurant goes to food and beverage purchases. Because of these prolonged cost pressures, restaurant operators will continue to use creativity and innovation to drive out cost inefficiencies and increase productivity to not pass along the increases to consumers at the same rate.

The sluggish economic and employment recovery impacts consumers’ cash-on-hand situation, which in turn impacts restaurants as there is a strong correlation between consumers’ disposable income and restaurant sales. There is currently substantial pent-up demand for restaurant services, with 2 out of 5 consumers saying they are not using restaurant as often as they would like; with improving economic conditions that demand is likely to turn into sales.

Preparing for the implementation of health care reform will put additional cost pressure on some restaurant operators in the near future. One-third of a typical restaurant’s sales go toward labor costs, so significant increases in those costs will result in additional cost management measures to preserve the already slim pre-tax profit margins of 3-5 percent on which most restaurants operate.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Advocacy main reason for LRA existence, key to mission

There’s this saying by the Louisiana Restaurant Association President/CEO and recovering restaurateur Stan Harris about the government and your business that is worthy of sharing with you here: “While you think you aren’t involved with government, if you are licensed, permitted or regulated, government and politics are in you, whether you like it or not.”

LRA President/CEO Stan Harris advocates on behalf of
Louisiana's restaurant industry with elected officials
every day. However, he strongly encourages restaurateurs
to build relationships with their elected officials
and share their experiences of running a business and
creators of jobs for an even greater impact.  
Last week, the LRA weighed in on behalf of the restaurant industry on the swift push through of the Orleans Parish Water Rate Increase – a whopping 114 percent in eight years.

Although, the Council voted 5-2 to pass the enormous increases and we were unsuccessful in putting them off any further, we made our voice heard loud and clear. There is no doubt the Sewerage and Water Board has mandates from the EPA that must be met. How the additional and current infrastructure funds are used is important to the ratepayers.

The thing about politics is it doesn’t always come down to the issue at hand. The relationships with an elected official, preferably established well in advance of an issue, greatly come into play. Politics is all about negotiation, coalition building, reciprocal support and honesty.  And over time, we build credibility.

As a restaurant owner, keeping your council members, legislators and even your congressional members informed about what is important to you, how many people you employ and how much it costs you to keep your doors open is an ongoing process, not a one-off when the need arises. We must position our industry as a job creator and job provider, a purchaser of goods and services, who cycles money through the local economy.

By joining the LRA, your dues and contribution to the Hospitality Political Action Committee allows us to maintain relationships with elected officials year round. We use these relationships to assist you as a restaurant owner to find clarification on a particular issue you may have. On behalf of the entire industry, we are your watchdogs for onerous policies that require changes or proposed laws that would put the restaurant industry into a vice grip of more regulations.

Harris also likes to refer to our member’s misperception that it is the LRA’s job is to “put the genie back into the lamp.” It is so much more effective when we use our collective efforts proactively on an issue. As elected officials know that we are in fact paid to advocate on behalf of the restaurant industry, but when we able for an LRA member to present an issue or request (an “ask” in the political realm) to an elected official, it carries far more impact. We can provide the talking points or expert back-up to help present the ask.

But you, as an owner, have the power to influence them directly and drill down the numbers of our industry’s economic impact and as the state’s largest private sector employer, in a way that we that makes it difficult for them to ignore. When you tell your story, its real, it’s true and it’s effective.

Every elected official has member restaurants in their district. When you develop these personal relationships with your elected officials you want them to consider when an issue arises, “How will this affect Peter at Such & Such Restaurant?” Telling the story of our industry and raising its image as an industry of opportunity is something that all of us need to do every day!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Brace yourself for the "fiscal cliff"

By Stan Harris, President/CEO, Louisiana Restaurant Association
Stan Harris is a former restauratuer
and has more than 25 years of
experience as an owner of
multi-unit operations in a
number of U.S. States.
It seems hard to believe that another year is almost over. The year began with the election of over 40 new legislators (out of 144) and ended with a national election.

This week, I had the opportunity to visit with several members of the New Orleans area Legislative Delegation. Of note, the discussions entailed the re-districting borders for many of their districts and others statewide. The rationale for the re-districting was sugarcoated in many respects, when in essence much of it was done to skew the boundaries to the benefit or detriment of a particular incumbent.

When you turn on the news right now, on the federal level it’s all coverage of the impending “fiscal cliff,” or the mandated sequestration that implements across the board cuts to federal departments and programs.

More concerning to the business and restaurant sectors is the approaching expiration of the “Bush,” and now with the extension in 2011 renamed the “Obama,” tax cuts. Payroll tax rates will return to prior levels and marginal tax rates resulting in an immediate tax increase. The President and the Democrats on the Hill want to keep the rates the same for all but the highest earners and this is proving to be problematic without agreed upon reductions in entitlement programs which are unsustainable at current revenue levels.

The interesting part of this debate is that instead of being at home, Congress will remain in Washington looking busy but until a real compromise can be debated, I don’t see the “cliff” being avoided. There may be a quick extension for 60-90 days, but the spending reduction and tax rate discussion will take more effort.

With the continued rise in food costs, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the above mentioned, the restaurant industry’s future is one with an even tighter profit margin.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Winter LRA Education Foundation ProStart Instructor training underway at LCI

Lawyers and accountants have a certain number of continuing education credits to complete each year in order to stay licensed in their chosen fields. The same process applies for Louisiana's ProStart instructors. The second of two training days held annually by the Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation (LRAEF) is underway at the Louisiana Culinary Institute (LCI) in Baton Rouge.

Baton Rouge's Beausoleil
Chef Owner Nathan
Gresham discusses
Restaurant Trends: Farm
to Table in Louisiana
during the ProStart
Instructor Winter Training.
Thirty-four ProStart instructors, representing 83 percent of Louisiana’s ProStart programs, are participating in this one-day professional development workshop, aimed to demonstrate the latest culinary techniques and business applications from professional chefs and culinary educators in preparation for the Spring semester and the LRAEF ProStart Student Competition, March 5-6, 2013 at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner.

Educators take the learned material back to their classrooms and apply it directly to their students’ lessons.

The topics being discussed include: “Restaurant Trends: Farm to Table in Louisiana,” with Chef Nathan Gresham of Beausoleil Restaurant in Baton Rouge; and “Foodservice Industry Spotlight: Meeting Dairy Needs in the 21st Century,” with Jeff Kleinpeter, president of Kleinpeter Farms Dairy. Rounding out the day’s program will be hands-on demonstrations on plating composition and design; and piping buttercream and modeling marzipan from chef instructors at LCI.
Jeff Kleinpeter covers
Meeting Dairy Needs in the
21st Center during the
ProStart Instructor
Winter Training.

“The LRAEF, through this training program, is continuing its mission to educate those instructors, who, in turn, will pass this vital information to their students,” said LRAEF Executive Director Alice Glenn. “We are grateful that we have such a distinguished group of restaurant industry professionals willing to share their expertise with our ProStart programs.”

The Louisiana ProStart program is grateful to its partners: Diamond- Auto-Chlor Services and the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation; Platinum- Performance Foodservice Caro; and Gold- Louisiana Culinary Institute, Ocean Conservancy and Atmos Energy.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

LRA GNO Chapter donates culinary equipment to ESJ's displaced ProStart program

Kitchenware and appliances are valued at more than $5,500 and were presented to the school November 28

Just a short time ago, Louisiana was looking down the barrel of yet another hurricane and areas surrounding the Metro New Orleans Area were greatly impacted by severe flooding due to Hurricane Isaac's storm surge. While many of us in the area were without power for days, others in the areas affected where salvaging what was left of their belongings, seeking alternative housing and officials were looking for other facilities to educate the students at the schools that experiences damage.

LRAEF Executive Director Alice Glenn, Chef Duke LoCicero
LRA Director Paul Rotner and ProStart Coordinator
James Blanchard with ProStart Instructor Autrey
Washington with East St. John HS officials.
One of those schools was East St. John High School, located in Reserve, La. in the River Parishes between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Inundated with flood waters, the damage forced students into Leon Godchaux Junior High School temporarily while the repairs are managed. Sadly, the school’s ProStart program experienced a loss of its equipment in its kitchen lab and textbooks.

The Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) Education Foundation (LRAEF) replaced their textbooks. Here’s where the LRA's Greater New Orleans Chapter stepped in. They agreed to replace much of the kitchen tools needed to demonstrate the lesson plans.

On November 28, 2012 the LRA GNO Chapter donated $5,500 in small wares and equipment to the ESJ ProStart program, which is administered by the LRA Education Foundation. NBC 33 in Baton Rouge covered the presentation here.

LRA GNO Chapter 2nd VP Chef Duke LoCicero shows off
some of the donated equipment to the East St.
“The flooding of Reserve and LaPlace affected us deeply,” said LRA GNO Chapter 2ndVice President Chef Duke LoCicero, owner of CafĂ© Giovanni in New Orleans. “The chapter, of course, was familiar with the daunting task of replacing items lost to a flood and it was especially upsetting to hear that East St. John High School’s ProStart program was in jeopardy. We wanted to help in any way we could.”

Among the items contributed were: a commercial reach-in refrigerator; two microwave ovens, a propane gas grill, two commercial lift stand mixers; knives, sharpeners, pots, pans and mixing bowls of various sizes and a whole host of other necessary kitchen items.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Know your holiday alcohol service

The upcoming holiday season will be a busy one for restaurants, as millions of Americans celebrate the occasion by dining out. Beer, wine and cocktails can be great additions to the holiday meal experience, so it's important for restaurant operators to train staff in responsible alcohol service.

The Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) is one of the largest provider of alcohol server training in the state. The two-hour Louisiana's BEST course meets the states requirement that all servers of alcohol complete the course and pass to obtain a Responsible Vendor Permit, or a bar card as it's often referred.

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) has created a “Know Your Holiday Alcohol Service” infographic to illustrate key facts. The NRA's ServSafe social media team will hold a Twitter party featuring two alcohol service experts on Thursday, Nov. 29, at 2 to 2:30 p.m. CT/3 to 3:30 p.m. ET to answer operator and employee questions. Follow @ServSafe and use the hashtag #ServSafeSeason to join.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Don't be the turkey this Thanksgiving

If you eat in a restaurant on Thanksgiving, which an estimated more than 30 million people do, the food safety and sanitation practices are covered by the chef and kitchen staff. But for the rest of Americans, they’ll likely be dining at home or be the guest at another’s abode for the Turkey Day Feast. Preparing that meal safely will ensure an enjoyable holiday with family and friends and the tips below will protect your reputation should someone get sick.
Thanksgiving dinner can be fraught with contamination is
the home cook does not keep food safety top-of-mind.

“Food and cooking are a big part of holiday celebrations, so putting food safety practices in focus this time or year will help ensure a safe and enjoyable experience,” said Greg Beachey, Senior Academic Relations and Program Manager with the National Restaurant Association. “Whether cooking at home or in a professional foodservice kitchen, basic principles like cleaning and sanitizing, and cooking to proper temperatures should be part of everyone’s food safety knowledge base.”

The food safety tips recommended by the NRA for preparing a Thanksgiving meal are:

Thaw your turkey in the fridge. While you can thaw a frozen turkey under running water or in the microwave, the best way is in the refrigerator overnight (or longer). Be sure to follow the instructions on the package.
Store raw turkey away from ready-to-eat food. Make sure your raw turkey is covered and stored in a leak-proof container on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. You want to keep it away from foods that are ready to eat, such as desserts and salads, to avoid the risk of cross-contamination.

Clean and sanitize your sink and counters. After rinsing your raw turkey thoroughly, properly clean and sanitize the sink and surrounding area before starting to prepare any other food.

Cook your turkey to safe internal temperature. Use a properly calibrated meat thermometer to check that your turkey has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Insert the thermometer to the dimple on the stem in the thickest part of the breast and thigh for accurate readings.

Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Prep salads, cranberries and other colds items first and store them in the fridge until ready to serve. Then prep your hot dishes closer to serving time so they stay hot. Keep all food items outside the “temperature danger zone” (41 to 135 degrees) as much as possible.
Safely reheat leftovers. Whether from a meal prepared at home or picked up from a restaurant, leftovers are part of the holiday tradition. Store each dish separately in clean, sealable, leak-proof containers and reheat to 165 degrees when you’re ready to enjoy round two of your Thanksgiving meal.

Through its ServSafe Food Safety program, the NRA is the leading source of food safety training and certification for restaurant and foodservice industry professionals for nearly 40 years. To date, more than 5 million ServSafe certifications have been issued. ServSafe is offered year round, statewide by the Louisiana Restaurant Association.

Part of the NRA’s continuing efforts to educate the industry and consumers about food safety best practices is its National Food Safety Month campaign, held each September.  This year’s theme is “Be Safe – Don’t Cross-Contaminate,” focusing on how to avoid transferring potential contaminates from one food or surface to another. National Food Safety Month 2012 is sponsored by SCA, a global hygiene company and makers of the Tork® brand of away-from-home paper products.

Cooler weather results in more soups on the menu

The temperatures in Louisiana are getting cooler as we head into the winter months, which means diners are likely to opt for soup as opposed to salads. While soups can be found year -round on menus, the likelihood that you’ll move more cups and bowls of cream or broth-based goodness is strong.
In the heart of Cajun country, Prejean's in Lafayette is
known for their delicious, rich Gumbo. Cajun's often
like a scoop of potato salad or
a boiled egg with in their bowl of gumbo.
The types of soups found on menus in Louisiana are much different from those in other parts of the country. Gumbo is a staple on most menus here in the Bayou state, and corn and crab bisque, turtle, French onion and oyster and artichoke soups are other popular options for diners—but the possibilities are endless. Vegetable, minestrone, tortilla, chili and chowders are popular elsewhere and sometimes make an appearance on menus in Louisiana.

In a Facebook status update by the Louisiana Restaurant Association’sWe Live to Eat” page, “It’s chilly outside! What’s your favorite cold weather comfort food?”, some type of soup appeared in 78 percent of comments – 18 out of 23.

The profitability in soup is one that educated restaurateurs and chefs know not to overlook. If a batch of gumbo yields 50 servings at $5 a cup for example, the profitability after labor and ingredients results in a hefty profit. Other less expensive ingredients used to make a soup may result in an even larger profit. It’s a win/win for the restaurant and for consumers who are looking for value at a price point they can afford.

The biggest thing for many restaurants is to reduce food waste. Therefore using seafood shells, produce prep leftovers and bones for stock are best practices for getting the most from your food costs.

According to US Foodservice, soups, appetizers and small plates are a proven way for restaurant operators to increase average check size and profit margins. These offerings appeal to a wide variety of consumers. Combo meals that provide soup with a salad or sandwich are especially popular among women for example, while appetizers are irresistible to large groups going out for celebratory dinners or family outings. Women are big soup fans and according to Technomic, approximately 60 percent of them are more likely to purchase soup as part of a combo meal with a salad or sandwich than by itself.

Market research firm Mintel found that soup sales across grocery stores and foodservice outlets have reached approximately $5 billion. They predict that this year, soup sales will reach $6.3 billion and projected growth of more than 25 percent in just a few years.

Subcontinent Sweet Potato Soup won the top prize in the
Sweet Rewards Recipe Contest in 2010. Using Louisiana
Shrimp and Sweet Potatoes, home cook
Drue Deshotels  used curry, ginger and
coconut milk to give his dish an Asian infusion.
Ethnic soups are gaining popularity. At the top 250 chains, Mexican soup flavors dominate. Emerging chains and large independents are adding more Asian-inspired soups and research supports this trend with more than 40 percent of consumer saying they would like more ethnic soup options at restaurants.
Technomic’s 2009 Soup Trend Study found that more than 75 percent of consumers were dissatisfied with the breadth of soup choices at the restaurants they regularly visit. By promoting combos that include soup, many quick service restaurants have seen check averages increase and profit margins have improved. In 2011, Technomic surveyed 1,000 consumers of which 62 percent now order soup at least occasionally during restaurant visits, up from 43 percent in a similar study in 2009.

Is soup on your menu part of your overall sales strategy, an afterthought or something you feel you have to offer?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Social media and politics

By Wendy Waren

Tuesday’s Presidential Election had citizens spouting off at the mouth something fierce. Opinions and memes were being posted well in advance of Tuesday’s showdown, but the gloating and poor sportsmanship following the announcement of the next president were just downright polarizing—even more so than we’ve seen in recent months. 

One Louisiana Restaurant Association restaurant member was lambasted by a customer on his personal Facebook page for sharing his thoughts on the state of the nation and one candidate’s lip service given to fixing our country’s problems. He reminded the customer that this was his personal page and that on his business page he refrained for sharing his political beliefs. That didn't stop his Facebook friends, who sided with him, from piling on in his defense. 

As the dust settles from the Nov. 6 hoopla, I've been contemplating whether or not some of these individuals who are cheering or commiserating actually participate in the political process other than occasionally casting their vote. Professionally, I spend a great deal of time working within the political arena. It takes time, dedication, commitment and conviction to stand up for the rights of an industry. Personally, I get involved by calling, writing letters and encouraging others to be heard on issues important to them. It’s time consuming no doubt. 

This week I was asked to speak on behalf of a program that I spend my Saturdays volunteering for, 4-H, administered by the LSU Ag Center. The entire budget was eliminated from New Orleans Mayor Landrieu’s 2013 proposed budget and after more than two hours sitting in on the New Orleans Council’s Budget Hearings, I learned that there was an error and we were not on the agenda. 

A key city official even said to me, “This happens all the time. It’s the way it goes.” I was floored at his defeated and rather nonchalant attitude after I spent time preparing and waiting for my turn at the podium, which ultimately never came. Could this be the reason more citizens don’t take part in the process? Probably. Should citizens take it lying down? No. 

My disappointment was evident. I wanted to pull out my phone and start sounding off with Facebook status updates and tweets, but I reminded myself, that in light of all of it, I needed to remain positive and focused, and remember who my online friends are—they are restaurateurs, media, politicians, family and friends. The same applied with me commenting on the Presidential Election. 

In real life it’s also important to remember that although someone may look like you, they may not have the same political beliefs. I heard from countless people this week that “We’re totally screwed,” or “We won, isn’t that great?” I keep my political convictions to myself for a reason. Voting is personal to me. 

Sometimes the situation warrants reserving the right to keep your mouth shut.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Restaurateurs are a philanthropic bunch

Just about every charitable event we attend has chefs and restaurateurs participating, either by performing cooking demonstrations or serving their unique cuisine. Restaurateurs nationwide contribute an estimated $3 billion every year to causes that impact their community, according to a study by the National Restaurant Association.

To recognize those restaurateurs who have made extraordinary contributions to their community through philanthropy, the NRA is seeking submissions for its annual Restaurant Neighbor and Faces of Diversity award programs. Earlier this year, two of Louisiana’s own—Greg Reggio and Leah Chase were honored in Washington, DC during the Public Affairs Conference—for their numerous efforts to uplift those in need.
The Restaurant Neighbor Award was created 15 years ago to help honor restaurants in the field of outstanding community service and involvement. Ninety percent of restaurants are actively involved in community activities and this award highlights the positive contributions restaurants make in their local neighborhoods each and every day.

Four national winners receive $5,000 each to support their community efforts as well as an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. The NRA and American Express are pleased to honor restaurant companies that have gone above and beyond in giving back to their communities through the Restaurant Neighbor Award program. Each year, four national winners receive $5,000 each to continue their charitable works.

The Faces of Diversity Award recognizes the diversity of the restaurant industry and the role it plays in helping individuals achieve professional and personal success. Three individuals, who through hard work and determination have realized their dreams, are selected each year as national winners and a $2,500 ProStart student scholarship is presented in their name.

The deadline to submit your Restaurant Neighbor and Faces of Diversity nominees is  January 7, 2013.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Election Day is upon us and there are nine Constitutional Amendments on the ballot

Tomorrow, you will have the right to exercise your vote for the president of the United States. Due to redistricting, there are two Congressional races up for a vote of the people. Candidates have been campaigning for months now and while you may know who will win your vote in these largely publicized races, we cannot forget the nine Constitutional Amendments that will also be on the ballot. These are formal changes to the text of the written constitution of Louisiana.

The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana is an independent, non-partisan review that offers a guide to the 2012 Constitutional Amendments. Issues that you will be called upon to decide are: whether or not to allow state government to sweep the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly, strict scrutiny review for gun laws, forfeiture of public retirement benefits for convicted public servants, membership of certain board and commissions and term limits for school board members, among several others.

Take a few moments to review the PAR Guide to Constitutional Amendments before you head to the polls. 
Recently, President/CEO Stan Harris encouraged Louisiana Restaurant Association members to reflect on these personal decisions here.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hammond ProStart Students Cook Like the Pros

Hammond High Magnet School is one of the state’s most successful ProStart® programs, having won the LRA Education Foundation Louisiana ProStart Student Culinary Competition five of the last six years and has placed in the top ten programs nationally. The students and their instructor, Patti Johnson, love the program and now have a commercial-grade, state-of-the-art kitchen to learn and teach in.

With such a fabulous kitchen to utilize—at the cost of $1.1 million—the school, the Tangipahoa Parish School Board and the LRAEF is officially unveiling it with a Grand Opening ceremony Monday, November 5 at 4 p.m.  

Prep station
The 1,500 square-foot kitchen has five cooking stations that include a six-burner range, convection oven, salamander broiler, tilt skillet and deep fryer.

“This is an investment in the future of the ProStart program at Hammond High Magnet School,” said Tangipahoa Parish School Board Superintendent Mark Kolwe. “This new facility will complement the other programs being added at the Hammond High Magnet campus.”

Many of the Hammond High Magnet ProStart Program’s 34 students will be on hand at the Grand Opening to prepare food for the attendees. Kolwe along with representatives from the Louisiana Restaurant Association and its Educational Foundation, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, state legislators, as well as other local dignitaries and government officials, will tour the new kitchen.

Kitchen ranges
ProStart is administered in Louisiana by the LRAEF and is a nationwide program for high school students that develops the best and brightest talent into tomorrow’s foodservice leaders. From culinary techniques to management skills, ProStart’s industry-driven curriculum provides real-world educational opportunities and builds practical skills, such as teamwork, communications, math and science, and a foundation that will last a lifetime.

“Hammond High Magnet School’s dedication to excellence in the culinary arts, under the direction of ProStart Instructor Patti Johnson, has certainly earned them the opportunity to educate its ProStart students in this state-of-the-art atmosphere,” said LRAEF Executive Director Alice Glenn. “They are fantastic model for all our ProStart programs to emulate.”

Thursday, October 25, 2012

You’re reading this already—you’re doing something right!

Here at the Louisiana Restaurant Association, we love to pass on the knowledge to our members because it’s important that you stay up-to-date on the latest information about the foodservice industry.  The difference between an informed and uninformed restaurant operator could transform into a competitive advantage. Whether it’s through Facebook posts, Twitter tweets or stories from our blog, we aim to send you news you can use, as much as possible. We do this with you, our members, in mind.

You might ask: where do we get a lot of our topics of conversation? Well, that’s easy to answer—we read—a lot. Part of our job is stay informed so we keep you informed. National trends translate differently across the country and it’s our job to let you know about that here in Louisiana and open the discussion about how these happenings affect you, whether it’s helping, challenging and/or hurting your business. Sometimes it’s a combination of all three. If you own a restaurant, you know how important it is to be able to roll with the punches, and we hope we give you strength to keep fighting.

Every day, we read through the restaurant and hospitality industry’s headlines and pull out what’s relevant right now for our members. However, there’s so much information that we couldn’t possibly share it all. We can reveal what we read, though, and encourage you to pick up where time constraints force us to leave off. Maybe you’ll find something interesting that we haven’t seen or been able to let you know about.

Below are some sources for our industry news. We encourage you to spend a few minutes each day scanning the headlines. Tips, techniques, legal issues, politics and trends found in these resources may be just the thing to spark your curiosity, solve that burning problem or help you save more on the bottom line.

The National Restaurant Association News Hub- similar to the LRA blog, these daily posts cover news, with a national focus in mind.
Nation's Restaurant News- Subscribe to their free e-newsletter to dig deep, on a daily basis, into a particular industry segment and learn about the newest products and trends.

Restaurant Management/RMGT- This platform-neutral, digital publication is designed to service restaurateurs and executives with the daily news and insights they need.

American Express Restaurant Briefing- This is a restaurant business newsletter with 35 years of history in the industry. It’s a unique blend of best practices and expert insights that continues to help restaurateurs compete in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Restaurant SmartBrief- Sign up for this free daily briefing on top stories for restaurant and foodservice professionals. They also offer e-newsletters on food service, travel and hospitality, business and leadership.

Food Sections of Local and National Dailies- Nola.com (formerly the Times-Picayune) and the websites of Baton Rouge’s The Advocate (now with editions exclusively for New Orleans, Acadiana, the River Parishes and the Florida Parishes), The Lafayette Advertiser, and the Shreveport Times, just to name a few, have food sections with local food news. Seek out your local paper. National newspapers such as USA Today, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal all have dedicated restaurant and food sections that highlight our industry at a broader level. Becoming familiar with these papers’ websites and journalists could go a long way in becoming more informed.

Business Publications and Alternative Weeklies- The non-traditional newsprints cover news differently than daily news organizations, and often their insights are more specialized and content rich. Some publications to check out are the websites of New Orleans’ CityBusiness and Gambit, Baton Rouge’s BusinessReport and 225 Magazine and Lafayette’s The Independent, just to name a few.

Social Media Feeds- A great source of late-breaking news, happenings and inspiration can be found in the news feeds of your social media platforms. Who doesn’t scroll through Facebook news feeds and Twitter posts multiple times a day? Follow and like the right people and companies (many of the publications mentioned here all have Facebook and Twitter pages) and you will be among the first to know the news. And don’t forget about Pinterest. Although you won’t read any news on the site, you can get fantastic ideas and inspiration from various pinboards. Try it out! But be warned—you could get lost in all the glorious and aspirational photos posted.

Are we leaving any one out? Are there publications out there that you absolutely can’t get through the day without checking out? Let us know!