Q&A: Restaurant Association of Metro Washington

Coyle’s restaurant mystery shopping programs include a network of professional secret shopper evaluators who are well-versed in the dining scenes within their chosen cities. One of the cities in which Coyle actively refers professional evaluators for quality assurance evaluations is Washington, D.C., which has undergone solid growth both in diversity and number of restaurant additions over the past few years. We spoke recently with Candice Siegel of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington to explore topics of concern to DC restaurateurs.

How many new restaurants are in the DC Metro area? How many opened in 2010?

The number of restaurants has grown steadily from around 1,400 in 2001 to 2,000 in 2010. There are approximately another 2,000 in the close-in suburbs.

 What are some of the most exciting things you’ve seen occurring in the DC restaurant industry over the past year?

  • There’s been an increased focus of the national press on DC area chefs and restaurants.
  • There’s also been a regionalization of many of our member restaurants groups, where they now have restaurants in DC, VA and MD.
  • We’ve seen chefs stepping forward, without hesitation, to join in the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” initiative. Many chefs are adopting and working with a public school on nutrition and other food-related issues.

What issues will the Restaurant Association be focusing on in 2011?

RAMW meets frequently with regional legislators and regulators representing our members’ views and frustrations with the regulatory morass and expense of doing business in this region. Certainly, always at the top of our list is monitoring and fighting any discussions of increasing restaurant sales taxes to “fix” (but in reality worsen) budget deficits. Along with monitoring any tax increases, we remain vigilant on discussions about increased regulatory burdens, whether it is increased red tape or additional fees. And then there’s whatever else the local legislatures and regulatory agencies throw at us.  Editor’s Note: Following this interview, the DC legislature was to introduce a bill to letter-grade DC restaurants based on health department reviews.

 What are the issues of significance for DC restaurateurs? Does this differ from the issues restaurateurs face nationwide?

As for restaurants everywhere, controlling costs is paramount. The restaurant profit margin is slim and every penny counts. Staffing continues to be a challenge, finding and keeping trained or train-able staff is a constant issue. RAMW has an education foundation, Educated Eats, which works with high schools on culinary curriculums to get young people interested in the food service industry..  

What advantages does belonging to the Restaurant Association (in any city) have for restaurateurs?

Banding together to have the industry’s voice heard before legislators and regulators is extremely important. RAMW is an information filter – we keep our members informed about what’s happening, including legislative and regulatory issues, transportation, events, and anything else that may be of interest and/or impact restaurants.

Restaurant associations organize promotions and events to benefit the entire industry.  RAMW organizes biannual Restaurant Weeks and an annual Restaurant Awards Gala, The RAMMYS, for instance.  We host educational seminars and monthly networking socials, as well. Through our Endorsed Provider program, RAMW members have access to products and services customized for our industry, often at reduced rates.

How do you work with other Restaurant Associations throughout the U.S.?

We often talk to other local restaurant association chapters about local laws in their jurisdictions that are introduced in our area. Letter grading and food truck regulation are two recent examples.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve seen restaurateurs make?

It’s all about the lease!

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