Thursday, February 27, 2014

LRA Education Foundation offers $60,000 in hospitality scholarships

Scholarship Fund to aid students for fourth consecutive year

The Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation (LRAEF), through its LRAEF Scholarship Fund, is now accepting applications through May 21, 2014.

The LRAEF Scholarship Fund was created in 2009 to provide an opportunity to further educate ProStart® students, culinary/hospitality students, industry employees and educators.  By providing financial support via scholarship funds, recipients are encouraged to select the culinary and/or hospitality fields as a career choice, or to further their career in the industry. With this year’s awards included, the LRAEF Scholarship Fund has gifted $200,000 to eligible students since its inception.

Applicants must be currently enrolled in or accepted to a degree-seeking program related to the hospitality or culinary industries. Scholarship awards may vary based on available funds and are merit-based.  Applicants who have completed ProStart will be eligible for the LRAEF-National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) Co-Branded Scholarship. All others will be eligible for the LRAEF General Hospitality Scholarship. 

At the 2013 LRAEF Five Star Futures Gala, 24 students
received scholarships totaling $50,000 to pursue or continue
their culinary and/or hospitality education. 
The top applicant will receive the Jim Funk Scholarship Award. The LRAEF’s most prestigious award, the scholarship is named for former LRA President & CEO Jim Funk, who retired in 2010 after 30 years of service. Funk is a LRAEF co-founder and culinary education champion.

DEADLINE HAS BEEN EXTENDED: Available for download here, the application must be completed and postmarked by Wednesday, May 21, 2014.

“The LRAEF is proud to offer monetary assistance to students both beginning and furthering their education in the culinary and hospitality fields,” said LRAEF Executive Director Alice Glenn. “Louisiana is on pace to add a minimum of 17,000 new industry positions over the next 10 years. Our goal is to support young people by providing merit-based financial assistance as they prepare for the many lucrative restaurant careers in Louisiana.”

The LRAEF, a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization, exists to enhance the restaurant community through expanded educational and career opportunities, the formation of strategic partnerships and the elevation of professional standards and practices. If you would like to make a donation, please contact Alice Glenn, or (504) 454-2277, ext. 565.

The LRAEF is grateful to its 2014 annual partners: 5 Diamond—Acme Oyster House, Auto-Chlor Services, Louisiana Hospitality Foundation and Louisiana Seafood; 4 Diamond—Performance Foodservice-Caro; 3 Diamond—Atmos Energy, Drago’s Seafood Restaurant, Louisiana Culinary Institute, New Orleans Wine & Food Experience and Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers; 2 Diamond—Louisiana Gas Association, Whole Foods Market and Chef Paul Prudhomme’s “Sea of Hope”; and 1 Diamond—Entergy.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Got a killer sweet potato recipe? Enter the 2014 Sweet Rewards Recipe Contest before June 1

The Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) invites its members to submit an original recipe using the beloved Louisiana sweet potato in the 2014 Sweet Rewards Recipe Contest, in partnership with Louisiana Cookin’ and the Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission.

From chefs to home cooks, the Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission seeks your creative and delicious sweet potato dishes. Do you serve them up as an appetizer, entrée or side dish, or as desserts?

The 2014 Sweet Rewards Recipe Contest receives entries from across the country and its mission--find the best sweet potato recipes. This year’s entries can utilize fresh, frozen or canned sweet potatoes.

The Commission will award five category winners, one each in the following categories: fresh, canned, frozen, culinary student and professional chef.

Each category winner will receive $500. A grand prize winner will be selected to receive $1,000. So start shopping for fresh, canned or frozen Louisiana Sweet Potatoes and enter your recipe here. All entries must be original recipes. Deadline to enter is June 1, 2014.

While you’re getting ready to cook up your masterpiece, take a look at the winning dishes from 2012 and 2013

The LRA is a sponsor of the 2014 Sweet Rewards Recipe Contest along with Bruce Foods, Louisiana Cookin', Louisiana Culinary Institute, Alexia and the Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Bad online review? Here's how to handle it

When your restaurant receives a bad online review, you may be tempted to fire off an emotionally charged response telling the reviewer how wrong they really are.

But that’s the wrong move, online review experts say, and could end up making the problem worse. Instead, restaurant owners should engage the unhappy customer, identify what sparked the bad feelings, and take steps to win back the customer by fixing the problem.

“Nearly 80 percent of the reviews on [Yelp] are three-star or above,” said Morgan Remmers, Yelp’s manager of local business outreach. “Those negative experiences that are actually giving constructive feedback are really important to note so you can implement that feedback and make that user experience, going forward, a better one.”

Remmers was one of the online experts who shared insights with restaurant owners during the National Restaurant Association’s members-only webinar, “Responding to Online Reviews.”

Restaurants should have policies in place that determine how they respond to negative reviews, said another panel member, Dan Simons, owner of the Washington, D.C.-area Founding Farmers restaurant. Simons has paid close attention to online customer engagement since he opened the restaurant, and Founding Farmers has drawn more than 3,000 ratings on Yelp. Restaurants should strive to engage customers on Yelp and other review sites, Simons said. Active engagement also seems to encourage other customers to submit reviews, he said.

Listen to the National Restaurant Association’s webinar, “Responding to Online Reviews.”

It is also important to develop what Simons calls a “neutralizer,” a standard process for assessing reviews that removes emotional elements and puts the focus on the issue driving the review. “We start to separate the review into its useful pieces,” Simons said. “When we want to respond to a guest, we don’t have to think about responding emotionally to their emotion, we just have to focus on the catalytic event.”

Listen to the archived webinar and learn:
  • How Yelp selects which reviews appear on a business’s page
  • Techniques to respond quickly and effectively to negative reviews
  • How to find and maintain your restaurant’s unique voice
  • How to zero in on the issue that led to the negative review, respond appropriately and earn customer loyalty.
Get “Online Reviews: The New Word of Mouth,” the leading guide to online reviews for restaurants. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mardi Gras 2014 ATC enforcement notice and safety tips for restaurants

Letters hit Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) members’ mailboxes this week from Louisiana Alcohol Tobacco Control Commissioner Troy Hebert regarding enforcement measures to be taken during the annual Mardi Gras parade season. While Mardi Gras activities are underway, the majority of the parades begin this weekend and will continue through until March 4.

Commissioner Hebert issued the following “friendly reminders” for establishments, particularly along parade routes, that are licensed to serve alcoholic beverages.
Maintain adequate security.
  • Develop a plan to ensure that minors are not served alcohol or tobacco products.
  • Develop a policy and educate employees on identifying proper identification.
  • Ensure that you have obtained special event permits for any events outside your licensed premises (i.e., in the parking lot, etc.).
  • Ensure that your alcohol and tobacco inventory is purchased from licensed wholesale dealers
  • Ensure that all permits are current and clearly visible.
  • Remember that ATC agents may enter your permitted location at any time.
  • A K-9 may accompany agents during their inspections.
  • Ensure you are in compliance with Trade Practice Regulations (visit the ATC website at

“ATC agents will be out in full force to ensure public safety during these events by verifying alcohol and tobacco products are sold and served responsibly,” the letter reads. “We will aggressively pursue all persons found selling alcoholic beverages and tobacco products without the proper permits. It is unfair to law abiding and tax paying businesses such as yours to allow others to compete against you.”

With the sheer volume of parade-goers flooding the French Quarter, St. Charles corridor, Veterans Memorial Blvd in Metairie, and other cities across the state, safety of your staff and customers is of the utmost importance during the revelry.

Here are some tips from LRA members who’ve experienced restaurant ownership during Mardi Gras for decades:
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times. This goes for everyone!
  • Regardless of the time of year, servers carrying cash are encouraged to leave the restaurant in groups, travel in well-lit areas, carpool if possible, avoid flashing cash and do not walk while using a smartphone/cell phone.
  • Managers and staff are encouraged to move their vehicles closer to the building once the shift has ended prior to closing procedures.
  • Keep side and back doors locked and alarms set when not in use.
  • Trash runs before lunch and dinner shifts and not done by just one staff member.
  • Use camera and security systems.
  • Don’t leave valuables in plain sight in your vehicle. 
If there's a tip we've overlooked, that you'd like to share, please let us know. Have a safe and happy Mardi Gras season. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Got answers? We have a crowd

Are you an expert in your field? Do you have information that you just KNOW will help restaurant owners? Can you offer advice or a service that is timely and current?

If the answer “yes” applies to those questions, then the Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) invites you to submit a proposal to speak in its Idea Zone at the 61st Annual Louisiana Foodservice & Hospitality EXPO, August 2-4, 2014. The EXPO is held at the Morial New Orleans Convention Center.

Idea Zone sessions will take place all three days of the EXPO, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. (2 p.m. on Monday) and has previously featured speakers expounding on topics such as health care reform, culinary trends, special dietary needs, profitability and social media. We also saw big crowds at food/beverage product launches and chef-led presentations. Sessions should be no longer than 30-45 minutes in length. See last years line-up. 

To be considered, e-mail the following to Erica Burns, your name, biography, business name, suggested title of Idea Zone session and a short, two-three sentence description of proposed session. Sessions will be reviewed and approved by a committee of restaurateurs. The LRA does not pay speaker fees.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Gulf Seafood Institute names Ewell Smith Interim Executive Director

The Gulf Seafood Institute (GSI), a leading voice for the Gulf of Mexico and the seafood it produces, has a new Interim Executive Director. Ewell Smith, former executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, will immediately assume the interim leadership role.

GSI represents all aspects of the industry. Its mission is to protect the Gulf’s unique culture and environment while elevating the Gulf seafood brand with consumers, consumers, customers and policy leaders through advocacy, education and science. Its board represents every Gulf state as well as every aspect of the industry—both commercial and recreational—and is positioned to be a leading voice on key issues including sustainability, seafood safety, and disaster mitigation and recovery, and data collection.

“I am excited to once again be involved with Gulf fisheries as the Interim Executive Director of the GSI, and to help them grow their mission,” said Smith, who led Louisiana’s state seafood board for more than 12 years. “I am humbled to have this opportunity, given the depth and level of leadership experience of the board comprised of fishery leaders from each of the five Gulf States.”

Smith was instrumental in establishing marketing events that gave Louisiana seafood worldwide exposure. Smith worked closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to establish the Great American Seafood Cook Off, seen on PBS and the Food Network. In addition, the Louisiana Seafood Cool Off, the Oyster Eating Challenge, the Louisiana Seafood Festival and signature “Po-boy Builds” at the Super Bowl and White House garnered billions of media impressions during his tenure.

Smith said, “It is particularly exciting for me that the Louisiana Restaurant Association and Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association have become strategic partners in the advancement of Gulf seafood. Their combined voices give our seafood leaders and communities the ability to leverage collective efforts representing two of the Gulf’s most co-dependent and important sectors that translate into tens of thousands of jobs, and millions of dollars in income for state and local governments.”

“Ewell’s team took a local grassroots program and grew it to a national level,” said GSI board member Stan Harris, President/CEO of the Louisiana Restaurant Association. “He pulled the LRA into the fold by putting the spotlight on our chefs and restaurateurs. It became a win-win for the state’s fishing communities and chefs; as national media embraced the message of ‘cooking with Louisiana seafood’.”

At the Louisiana Seafood Board, Smith led market development, promotional activities and educational outreach for all of Louisiana’s seafood products, leading them into international prominence. 

Read more here

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The 411 on music licensing for restaurants

Music licensing companies collects license fees on behalf of songwriters, composers and music publishers and distributes them as royalties to those members whose works have been performed. Restaurants or businesses that play music from recording artists or have live musicians performing previously recorded music must pay license fees to these companies. The three largest companies that license music are BMI, ASCAP and SESAC. Businesses may periodically receive requests for payment from these companies. It is important to pay what is owed to all three companies. Late fees and penalties for non-payment could add up to, in some cases, thousands of dollars.

Musicians are frequently hired to perform at restaurants and bars. Many times, the Louisiana Restaurant Association gets asked the question: Why should my business be responsible for a licensing fee for the music that is played, when the musician is the one performing the song? A short, simple answer to that question is that your business is receiving a benefit from the live music being performed there.

Background music played over a sound system can provide ambiance to a restaurant. To mitigate the costs of that form of entertainment, restaurants can purchase a business package from a music service, a cable company or satellite radio company. The contract should stipulate that the company from which you are buying the service is responsible for any music licensing fees.

Broadcast Music, Inc. currently represents some more than 6.5 million compositions — a number that is constantly growing. As a result, BMI has, over the years, implemented a number of technological innovations in its continuing effort to gather the most accurate information available about where, when and how its members’ compositions are played or performed, as well as ensuring that royalty payments are made in as precise and timely a manner as possible. Call at (800) 925-8451 or visit

The Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) has partnered with BMI to provide an association discount program. Members receive a:

  • 5 percent discount on BMI licensing fees
  • 5 percent online discount for licensing and/or paying at
  • 10 percent timely payment discount for paying your fee in full within 30 days of invoice
The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers is a membership association of more than 410,000 U.S. composers, songwriters, lyricists, and music publishers of every kind of music. Through agreements with affiliated international societies, ASCAP also represents hundreds of thousands of music creators worldwide. ASCAP is the only U.S. performing rights organization created and controlled by composers, songwriters and music publishers, with a Board of Directors elected by and from the membership. Visit


Formerly the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers, SESAC was founded in 1930 to serve European composers not adequately represented in the United States. Though the company name was once an acronym, today it is simply SESAC and not an abbreviation of anything. With an international reach and a vast repertory that spans virtually every genre of music, SESAC is the fastest growing and most technologically adept of the nation’s performing rights companies. Visit

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

White House offers some employers transition relief under health care law

Some employers will receive relief under the Affordable Care Act's employer mandate next year, the White House announced today.

The ACA’s employer mandate eventually will require employers of 50 or more full-time-equivalent employees to either offer health benefits to their full-time employees or face possible penalties. The mandate originally was due to take effect in 2014, but the White House last summer moved the effective date to 2015.

In a final rule issued today to explain how the mandate will work, the Obama Administration said that employers with 50 to 99 full-time-equivalent employees won't be subject to the law’s employer-mandate penalties until 2016.
This change, and other changes in the final rule, will provide additional flexibility for employers, especially those at or near the 50 FTE-employee definition of a “large employer” under the ACA. The National Restaurant Association has been pressing regulators for these changes and will continue to do so. The NRA also continues to advocate for structural changes in the law that only Congress can address, such as the definition of full-time employee.

According to Treasury Department officials, other provisions of the final rule:
  • Make permanent the "look-back measurement method:" The final rule gives covered employers the option of using a look-back period to measure the full- or part-time status of variable-hour and seasonal employees. This measurement method can give employers more stability and predictability in knowing which employees are eligible for health care coverage under the law. The Treasury Department also clarified that seasonal employees in positions working six months or less in a year generally aren’t considered full-time employees.
  • Offer transition relief for certain employer penalties: Penalty "A" will apply under the law to covered employers who fail to offer minimum essential coverage to “substantially all” of their full-time employees. For 2015, the Treasury Department says "substantially all" means employers must offer coverage to at least 70 percent of full-time employees. Starting in 2016, covered employers must offer coverage to 95 percent of their full-time employees to avoid Penalty A.
  • Offer transition relief for employers with non-calendar-year health plans. For covered employers who offer non-calendar-year plans, the final rule clarifies that the employer mandate will take effect on the first day of their plan year in 2015, rather than Jan. 1, 2015.
The National Restaurant Association said the final rule provided additional relief for some employers and thanked the Treasury Department for working with the NRA and the Employers for Flexibility in Health Care Coalition to provide flexibility in the rule.

See the Treasury Department's press statement and fact sheet for more information. The National Restaurant Association will update its Health Care Headquarters with further analysis of the final rule.
Still to come: The Treasury Department has not yet finalized major new reporting requirements for employers under the law. The first information reports will be required in early 2016, based on data tracked in 2015. The National Restaurant Association reiterated its concern that these rules be as streamlined as possible, since these could contain significant compliance costs for restaurants.

The NRA also called on Congress to address other parts of the law. As restaurants nationwide struggle with ACA implementation, challenges remain that now only Congress can address. The NRA asks Congress to come together in a bipartisan manner to better align the definition a full-time employee with current business practices, eliminate the duplicative automatic-enrollment provision, and simplify the determination of a small business under the law.

For continuing updates on the law, visit the NRA’s Health Care Headquarters.

Monday, February 10, 2014

NRA offers extreme makeovers, digitally speaking

As more consumers use technology when making decisions on where to dine out, it is important for restaurants to stay one step ahead in boosting web presence.

To that end, the National Restaurant Association has launched a members-only “Extreme Digital Makeover” contest that helps operators expand their businesses online through enhanced web presence, text messaging, online ordering and local marketing platforms.

The Association kicked off the program Feb. 12 with a contest for restaurants that will help create or reinvigorate their digital presence. Nominations for the promotion are being accepted through March 14.

“Our contest is one of the many ways the NRA is helping its members promote restaurant innovation,” said Phil Kafarakis, chief innovation and member advancement officer. “As consumers make reservations, look up menus and place their orders online, technology is becoming increasingly vital to our industry and we want to educate operators and suppliers on best practices regarding web presence, email marketing, text messaging and social media so they can reach new patrons and maintain customer loyalty.”

According to recent NRA research, restaurant technology is on the rise. More than two in five diners have used a smartphone to find restaurant locations and directions, or viewed menus and 43 percent have ordered takeout or delivery orders online. Further, 36 percent of the adults surveyed said they would like to receive notification of specials or events through social media like Facebook or Twitter and 61 percent said they would like to receive email or text notifications of daily specials.

To participate in the campaign, contestants must fill out an application online explaining why they deserve a digital makeover. Once it is completed, members will have the ability to check off which prizes they’d like to be considered for. Four different winners will be eligible to receive one of the following prizes:

·     A two-year membership/package from digital media expert MoPro, that includes the creation of a custom HTML5 website, as well as video, photos, social media and an e-commerce shop
·     A one-year, free membership to CMSText, a text messaging platform service
·     One year from EatStreet of free online ordering services, website development and credit-card processing for online orders and associated marketing for a single location; and
·     One year access to a free local marketing suite from online marketing provider Fishbowl

The NRA also will host a webinar focusing on digital best practices for restaurant operators on Thursday, February 27th at 2 p.m. EST. Register here.

Friday, February 7, 2014

New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute selected to purchase former ArtWorks Building

The Louisiana Artists Guild announced yesterday afternoon their selection of the New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute (NOCHI) as the purchaser of the former Louisiana ArtWorks building located at 725 Howard Avenue. The purchase is to be financed by a loan from First NBC with guaranties pledged by Bill Goldring, Phyllis Taylor and David Kerstein through The Helis Foundation. 

“We were thrilled to learn of the selection of the NOCHI proposal for the ArtWorks building located on historic Lee Circle,” said George Brower, a member of NOCHI’s board of directors.  “It is a win-win for the City of New Orleans, the State of Louisiana, our citizens, our workforce and the preservation of our unique culture.”

NOCHI’s plan is to bring together providers of higher education to collaborate in a new model of training, education, and research and development that integrates existing and new programs at Delgado Community College, the University of New Orleans and Tulane University.  

“NOCHI is already a symbol of what can happen when diverse people, multiple universities, a city and a state come together to make an important idea come to life,” said Ti Martin, another member of NOCHI’s board of directors that also includes Dickie Brennan, John Besh, Edgar Chase III and Barbara Mollere.  “Our city deserves a center for excellence to study, teach, innovate, and celebrate our culinary history and to chart a path for the history we want to make in the food world.” 

Delgado has executed a cooperative endeavor agreement with NOCHI to locate their existing certificate and associate degree programs alongside NOCHI’s other programming and services in the former ArtWorks building.  NOCHI plans to complement and augment the offerings of Delgado’s Hospitality and Culinary Center and the existing degrees offered through the University of New Orleans School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Administration by creating baccalaureate and master’s degree programs in the culinary arts, as well as courses geared to the general community and unique culinary tourism experiences.  

"The decision by the administration to select NOCHI as the purchaser of the Artworks Building is a true testament to the commitment of the parties involved in creating this high profile institute," said Stan Harris, President/CEO, Louisiana Restaurant Association. "NOCHI will provide a platform for these various culinary and hospitality interests to work together to elevate educational offerings in New Orleans."

In addition to offering world-class training and education at all levels of higher education, NOCHI’s mission is to support research and development in the food and hospitality space and plans to establish a food/hospitality business incubator in partnership with a leading local business or economic development organization.  

"The placement of the institute on the Howard Avenue corridor provides exciting potential as an entrepreneurial incubator area for hospitality, technology and related businesses," added Harris.  

NOCHI expects to begin construction by the end of this year and to launch full-scale operations of the building in time for the Fall 2016 semester, with parts of the building’s long-term operations going live as early as the end of 2015. 

The strength of NOCHI’s bid for the former ArtWorks building lay in its strong public purpose of driving workforce and business development in the Greater New Orleans region, in addition to sustaining the original mission of the ArtWorks building of investing in the cultural fabric of New Orleans to improve the quality of life for its citizens and to attract students, visitors and influencers from around the world. 

“Let me tell you,” said Leah Chase, New Orleans chef, author, and television personality.  “We need this. This school can put so many of our young people on a variety of career paths that can stabilize families and lift our city.  The culinary arts are as important as all the other enriching arts. This is who we are . . . let's take it to the next level, keep moving, keep it going.  New Orleans is big enough to have everything.”

Founded in 2013, the NOCHI is an independent, 501(c)3 non-profit organization whose mission is to advance the development and practice of the culinary arts, and to support the growth of the hospitality and tourism industry in the New Orleans region through world-class training and education and the incubation of research and development that will further develop both the culinary arts and the hospitality and tourism industry at large.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Valentine's Day restaurant reservations strong for 2014

If you haven’t made your reservations for Valentine’s Day, which lands on a Friday this year, what are you waiting for? Restaurants in Louisiana are reporting strong bookings, and many are planning to also host diners for the special occasion on the following Saturday night.

Valentine’s Day is the second busiest day for restaurants, behind Mother’s Day, and nearly 70 million Americans are planning to treat their significant other to a romantic meal to commemorate the occasion. That’s one quarter of the nation’s diners planning to spend their evening in restaurants, according to the National Restaurant Association (NRA). 

Diners surveyed by OpenTable last year said they were prepared to spend an average of $139 on dinner out, about two-thirds more than the typical OpenTable check average of $85 per couple. Collectively last year, diners spent $4 billion on meals out on Valentine’s Day.

Restaurants use the opportunity to make the evening special with prix fixe menus with celebratory desserts, champagne, flowers and music. Thirteen percent of diners surveyed by the NRA said they select a restaurant that offers a special menu or promotions.

"We're offering a four-course Valentine's Day dinner for $40 and Moet Chandon Brut Rose for $8 a glass, said Scott Callais, general manager at Juban's Restaurant in Baton Rouge. "We are also featuring dancing with Ned Fasullo and the Fabulous Big Band Orchestra.

When choosing where to dine out for Valentine’s Day, the NRA’s research revealed that 42 percent of diners say they pick their favorite restaurant or their companion’s favorite restaurant for the their special meal, as opposed to 11 percent of diners who said they select a restaurant they have never visited. Twenty-two percent of diners said they seek a restaurant with a romantic atmosphere. 

The biggest challenge for restaurants on Valentine’s Day is finding enough two-top tables. In a Nation’s Restaurant News article, Cornell University professor of services operations management Sherri Kimes provides a formula for calculating what restaurant owners can expect. She urges restaurateurs to use data from the prior-year holidays and encourages renting the two-tops needed to maximize revenue opportunity.

When given a list of six Valentine’s gift options that they’d like to receive, a NRA survey found that 31 percent of adults favored restaurant gift cards, followed by jewelry, clothing, flowers, chocolate and perfume. When broken down by gender, 46 percent of men favored restaurant gift cards over the other gift options.

Reservations will no doubt be difficult to come by if not made in advance. Take the time today and make your reservation for that special someone in your life. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

LRA Cenla Chapter presents "Taste of Mardi Gras"

The Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) Cenla Chapter’s annual Carnival party, “Taste of Mardi Gras,” will be held Friday, February 28, 2014 at the Alexandria Riverfront Center, 707 Main Street, 7-9 p.m. (Special VIP entry is at 6 p.m.)

As Central Louisiana’s most well-known Mardi Gras event, it will feature “tastes” of the most delicious restaurants in the area, a silent auction of more than 50 packages and entertainment by the band, Stormy, which will perform 9 p.m.- midnight. A cash bar will be available all evening.

“The LRA Cenla Chapter is excited to host, once again, the best Mardi Gras party in town,” said LRA Cenla Chapter President Johnny Scalisi, managing partner of Texas Roadhouse in Alexandria. “For 17 years, we have been providing a fun and safe option for family members of all ages to celebrate Carnival.”

At last year’s event, more than 2,800 revelers were in attendance. This year, enjoy tasty creations from more than 25 restaurants, including Atwood’s Bakery, Backwoods Catering, Mi Tierra Restaurante and Tunk’s Cypress Inn.

A portion of the proceeds from “Taste of Mardi Gras” benefits the LRA Cenla Chapter’s annual LRA Education Foundation (LRAEF) goal. The LRAEF, in turn, will use monies raised to further promote the restaurant industry as a career choice through its ProStart® program, enhance the restaurant community through expanded educational and career opportunities and provide scholarships to those students studying the culinary arts. The Children’s Miracle Network will also receive a portion of the proceeds.

The LRA Cenla Chapter would like to thank its generous sponsors for this year’s event: Alexandria/Pineville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Hospital, Coca-Cola, Progressive Waste, Southwest Beverage Company and Venture Marketing.

Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased at $20 for adults and $10 for children (10 years and younger). They can be purchased at the following locations in Alexandria:

·         Alexandria/Pineville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, 707 Second Street
·         Atwood’s Bakery, 1125 MacArthur Drive
·         Critic’s Choice, 415 Murray Street and 5208 Rue Verdun

At the door the night of the event, tickets increase to $25 for adults and $15 for children.

Reserved VIP Tables are also available in advance for $400, which includes reserved seating for eight and early admittance at 6 p.m. and can be purchased at the Alexandria/Pineville Area CVB. Call (318) 442-9546 or e-mail For forms to reserve your table(s), be a sponsor and/or be a vendor, contact LRA Chapter Member Services Coordinator Angela Chisholm at or (318) 366-1326.

For other Alexandria Mardi Gras events, visit

A chain-linked restaurant career

Published in the LRA magazine, A La Carte, Winter 2014 edition. By Wendy Waren, VP of Communications. 

Meet Bruce Attinger, 2014 Louisiana Restaurant Association Chairman, a University of Maryland graduate with a B.S. in Biology, who changed the course of his life with his first restaurant job in 1971.  

Bruce Attinger and his wife of 32 years, Jan
grace the cover of the LRA's A La Carte
magazine, Leadership Edition, Winter 2014.
More than 40 years ago, Bruce Attinger began his restaurant career at the Black Steer Restaurant in Washington, D.C. With no previous experience in the business, he took the job at the urging of one of his roommates, Bob Basham, and hit the ground running. His stint as a bartender lasted two short weeks before taking on various positions in the family run business.

Nick Berbakos and his wife, Dottie, owned the Black Steer Restaurant located just a block from the White House and were Attinger’s first mentors in the business.

“I just wanted to learn the business and Mr. Nick gave me a chance and a parking pass,” said Attinger. “The Black Steer was right around the corner from the White House and did 350 covers at lunch, with the clientele made up primarily of the [White House]Press Corps who came to the Black Steer because they couldn’t afford to eat next door at the pricey Sans Souci.”

Working at a restaurant in the nation’s capital, Attinger found that he would have to recognize the town’s movers and shakers.

At the time, Attinger admits he was so apathetic when it came to politics, that Berbakos would instruct him on who was important enough to sit in the main dining room and who to send to the upstairs dining room.

“There was this one guy who I would always send upstairs because he was so arrogant,” Attinger said. “After the first day of testimony in the Watergate trials, the gentleman entered the restaurant and received a standing ovation from the diners. He was Robert Odle, the first to testify in the Watergate trials. From that moment on, he was seated in the main dining room.”

At the early age of 21 and shortly after he started, Berbakos got sick and told Attinger, “I’m going to have to lean on you.” He began learning the ordering process, which on some days were three different meat orders depending on who had the best prices, along with shopping prices from half a dozen produce and grocery houses. During the year and a half he worked there, Berbakos was sick most of that time. Attinger admits, he never seriously considered a future at the Black Steer, because he erroneously assumed Berbakos would turn the restaurant over to his daughters.

“When Mr. Nick came back to work, he was so indebted to me that he gave me a sizeable bonus,” said Attinger. “But again, my roommate, Basham, was egging me to explore other options and ‘go see how corporate restaurants run’.”

Basham and Attinger went to interview with Steak & Ale. Having never gone through a formal interview, Attinger found himself sitting down with a corporate recruiter being asked questions of which he had no answers. What he did instead was ask the interviewer questions, which made the recruiter sit up and take notice.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

LRA Greater Baton Rouge Chapter announces annual award recipients

Last In Concepts owners Brandon Landry and Jack Warner named Restaurateurs of the Year

The Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) Greater Baton Rouge Chapter (LRA GBR) announced its annual award recipients during a ceremony January 21, 2014 at Juban’s Restaurant in Baton Rouge. Ruffino’s Restaurant Chef/Owner and LRA GBR Chapter President Peter Sclafani presented the following awards: Restaurateurs of the Year, Active Member of the Year and Associate Member of the Year.

Brandon Landry and Jack Warner of Last In Concepts were selected as the LRA GBR Chapter’s Restaurateurs of the Year. They own several restaurants including Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar, the Roux House, Happy’s Irish Pub, Schlittz & Giggles and Walk-On’s Catering. The two have expanded these concepts in Louisiana, primarily in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

“We are proud that their first concept, Walk-On’s, started here in Baton Rouge,” said Sclafani. “To see the expansion of their company to now 11 restaurants employing upwards of 1,000 people is a testament to the success and opportunities that exists in the restaurant industry.”

Ryan Nizzo, general manager of Walk-On’s in Baton Rouge, was recognized as the LRA GBR Chapter Active Member of the Year. This award is given to an individual in the food service industry who is involved in chapter affairs, events and meetings, and encourages his peers to join the association and become active. Nizzo previously served as the LRA GBR chapter president for two years.

“Ryan has served our chapter diligently and has shown amazing dedication and leadership,” said Sclafani. “He really focused on member engagement and growing the success of our fundraisers benefiting the LRA Education Foundation and its ProStart programs.”

Billy Long, Vice President of Crescent Crown Distributing, was selected as the LRA GBR Chapter Associate Member of the Year.  This award recognizes an associate member who graciously volunteers his time and talents in service to the chapter and its activities and fundraisers.

“Billy has been a steadfast supporter of the restaurant industry and our chapter,” said Sclafani. “His dependability and commitment to helping restaurateurs succeed in their businesses is a great example for our membership.” 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Tips and service charges

By Eric Fullmer, Managing Member, Bourgeois Bennett, LLC

As of January 1, 2014, businesses are required to follow the guidelines previously established by the IRS regarding the proper characterization of tips and service charges.  The guidance covers employer and employee obligations under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) with respect to tips received by employees and includes clarification of the classification of a payment as a tip or a service charge.

The distinction of a tip from a service charge presents the restaurateur which a myriad of reporting challenges and may cause the operator to re-think its practice regarding mandatory service charges for large parties or banquet events.

First, a tip is defined as:
·         A payment made by a customer free from compulsion,
·         The customer has the unrestricted  right to determine the amount,
·         The payment is not subject to negotiation or dictated by a restaurant policy, and
·         The customer has the right to determine who receives the payment.

Absent these factors, the additional amount added to a customer check is a service charge and not a tip.  The employer must report service charges in income from operations. Service charges distributed to employees are non-tip wages and would be deductible as salaries and wages by the restaurant.

The operator is now presented with some unique challenges in processing payroll.  Service charges paid to employees must be tracked separately from tips for purposes of minimum wage and overtime calculations.

Minimum Wage Calculations.  The current Federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.  If an employee works a banquet shift where the operator charges a mandatory service charge and the employee is not working as a tipped employee, the calculation is quite simple.  The employee must be paid at least $7.25 per hour, including any service charge distributed to the employee.  If an employee works a mixed shift in which they receive both tips and service charges, the hours worked can be considered tipped hours and the hourly wage paid to a tipped employee can be reduced to as low as $2.13 per hour by utilizing a wage rate credit for tips received by each employee.   Because service charges are non-tip wages, the amount distributed to tipped employees cannot be included to determine the tip credit against minimum wage. However, the service charges distributed to employees would be included in the hourly wages paid by the employer toward meeting the minimum wage requirement. 

Overtime.  Employees must receive overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek at a rate not less than time and one-half their regular rate of pay.  In computing overtime, the regular rate of pay cannot be less than the minimum wage which is currently $7.25 per hour.  The regular rate of pay includes all regular hourly wages paid and now will include all service charges paid.  It does not include tips in excess of the tip credit.  Depending on the ratio of service charges and tips, this calculation may result in a higher overtime rate than when service charges were treated as tips. 

FICA tax credit.  Qualified employers may claim an income tax credit for Social Security and Medicare taxes paid or incurred on employees’ tips.  The tips included in this calculation will no longer include service charges distributed to employees.

Sales Taxes.  The Louisiana Department of Revenue is clear regarding sales tax on tips and service charges.  Tips and gratuities that are freely given by a customer over and above the price charged for food or drinks are not subject to state sales tax.  Any gratuity, tip, or service charge added as a separate item to the customer's bill as a requirement of the eating establishment is not subject to the sales tax if the full amount of the service charge is disbursed directly to the employees who customarily and regularly provide the service.  If any portion of the tip or gratuity is retained by the restaurant or lounge operator, then the entire amount of the gratuity becomes taxable.

Some operators reduce the tips and service charges paid to their employees by any processing fees charged by the credit card companies.  We offer concern on this point and question whether this practice could trigger a sales tax assessment under the literal reading of state law noted above.

Conclusion.  The implementation of these guidelines presents significant reporting challenges to operators and increases the administrative burden of compliance with payroll regulations.    As a solution to reducing the compliance burden with these new rules, the operator may want to consider eliminating the automatic service charge.  Instead, by offering suggested gratuities to the bottom of a check allowing the customer to determine the amount of the gratuity, all gratuities would be classified as tips and this reporting dilemma would be eliminated.  Employers may want to rethink service charge practices or prepare for the additional compliance burden that these rules require.

Students get cookin' as ProStart competition season heats up

The run-up to this year’s National ProStart Invitational in May has officially begun, with high-school students from around the country prepping to compete in the culinary and management competitions, where winners will secure educational scholarships and pursue careers in the restaurant industry, officials of the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation said.

The Louisiana Seafood ProStart Student Invitational is scheduled for March 25-26, 2014 at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center.  ProStart teams placing in the top three spots for the culinary and management competitions will receive nearly $1 million in scholarships from the nation’s and Louisiana’s most notable programs.

“Nearly 200 Louisiana ProStart students will participate this year,” said Alice Glenn, LRA Education Foundation Executive Director. “For the second year, ProStart students will be required to feature at least one of six of the Louisiana seafood species—oysters, crab, shrimp, finfish, alligator and crawfish—in either their appetizer or entrée in the culinary competition.”

Management competition contenders are required to include Louisiana seafood in the restaurant concept menu.

The winning Louisiana team in culinary and management will go on to vie for a spot at the national event in Minneapolis, May 3-5, as well as scholarships from renowned schools, including Johnson & Wales University, Le Cordon Bleu and Sullivan University.

The ProStart program, created by the NRAEF in partnership with the restaurant industry, is administered and managed by 48 participating state restaurant associations around the United States, as well as programs in Guam and Department of Defense (DOD) high schools on U.S. military bases. It helps introduce students to potential career opportunities in foodservice and features a specialized curriculum – Foundations of Restaurant Management and Culinary Arts – that was developed with the help of industry professionals.

According to Rob Gifford, the NRAEF’s executive vice president of philanthropic initiatives, total restaurant and foodservice employment is projected to grow by 11 percent over the next 10 years, and the Educational Foundation along with its state association partners “are committed to ensuring the development of highly trained and professional talent pool through scholarships and educational programs.

“Thanks to the dedication and leadership of our state partners, ProStart is part of a national movement to empower students with the training and opportunities they need to achieve fulfilling, lifelong careers,” he said.

The culinary phase of the National ProStart Invitational will highlight the creative abilities of each team as they prepare a three-course meal in 60 minutes using two butane burners and no access to running water or electricity. Teams will be evaluated on taste, teamwork, safety and sanitation, among other skills, while the management teams will develop a business proposal for an original restaurant concept and present it to a panel of industry judges, who will challenge them to address the issues restaurant managers face on a daily basis. This year’s event is expected to attract more than 900 attendees, including industry and academic leaders, NRAEF board members, state restaurant association representatives, ProStart educators, and the contestants’ friends and family members.

Students at this year’s state competitions will participate in 46 culinary cook-offs and 40 management demonstrations. The state competitions will run through April.

For more information about ProStart, visit or Facebook.