ITA Spotlight: National Restaurant Association
Monday, January 29, 2018
Posted by: Gary Hotze
Kevin Steele, Chief Information Officer, National Restaurant Association, Restaurant.org, @WeRRestaurants
In 25 words or less, what is the National Restaurant Association all about?
Meet "The Other NRA"! The National Restaurant Association advances and protects America's amazing restaurant industry, which today includes 1 million U.S. locations and nearly 15 million employees.
What problem do you solve and how do you address it better than the competition?
We support and champion an industry that drives 4 percent of the U.S. GDP, employs nearly one in 10 working Americans, and receives 48 percent of Americans' food dollar. We represent our members at every level of government. We tell our industry's stories to the media and the public. Additionally, we operate the nation's leading food-safety training and certification program, convene tens of thousands of industry professionals annually to help them build a business; and work to attract, advance and empower the industry's workforce through scholarships, apprenticeships and a unique career-building high school program. Our products and services save our members time, money and headaches by helping them grow and succeed - whether that's protecting their economic interests, sharing best practices or helping them get in front of emerging trends.
We can do all this because of a vast and active membership base and a strong partnership with 52 state restaurant associations as we jointly serve our industry and members.
How did you get started?
The National Restaurant Association came to be because of beef about egg prices. In 1917, egg brokers tried to demand a cost of 65 cents a dozen, so the year-old Kansas City Restaurant Association started a boycott. As a result, egg prices plummeted to 32 cents a dozen and the rest is history. A national movement began. Today, as we move toward our 100th anniversary in 2019, we represent the business interests of nearly 500,000 NRA members. And things just keep getting bigger and better every year.
How has your company culture evolved as the NRA has grown?
The NRA's culture has evolved as our industry's reach, and role has expanded. Restaurants are an essential part of the U.S. economy, the heart of local communities, and the training ground for millions of Americans. Restaurateurs must be dynamic, agile and fast-moving in serving more than 130 million guests a day. Restaurant guests want safe and nutritious food options, information about menu items, and an array of platforms -- so they can order the food they want, when they want it and how they want it.
Like our members, we need to be on the leading edge of trends. The NRA's solutions are increasingly market-centric and collaborative. Hospitality comes first for us, just as it does for the industry we serve. Our next area of focus is to become agiler in delivering our products and services and to be more digitally oriented.
What are the NRA's primary goals?
All of our goals cascade from our three strategic initiatives: To build our industry's influence, image and engagement. Under those three guideposts, we partner with 52 state restaurant associations to advance our industry through lobbying efforts, communications outreach and research projects that enhance our members' profitability and impact. We are working to grow revenue through our products, including our ServSafe and other training and certification, which provides comprehensive food-safety and additional education to nearly 2 million people a year. We are working to improve and expand our events platforms. We have a multi-year focus on how to grow our annual NRA Show in Chicago -- the best trade show of its kind for our industry. We also plan to build our membership base and subsequent dues revenue.
Our technology team supports each of these goals by aligning our business operations with our digital transformation. We are refreshing/replacing applications and maximizing our technology investments. We are working to improve our internal delivery process and continue to cultivate a team of highly-skilled, high-performing, motivated individuals in an environment that provides opportunities for growth and recognition.
Where do you see the NRA in two years? Five? Ten?
Given our stability over the last 100 years, we are excited by and look forward to the possibilities the next decade holds as we meet the needs of a growing and rapidly changing industry. With our industry expected to add more than 1 million new jobs within the next ten years, our role in workforce development will continue to expand. Based on the consistent growth we've experienced over the last several years, we envision continuing a high-growth trajectory as we grow our product lines and develop a rich digital platform to deliver our services and increase our member value.
What's the No. 1 thing on your to-do list?
Data, data and more data. We are on a mission to undergo a digital transformation. We are upgrading the richness and availability of data and analytics to drive our operations and improve our offerings. We want to better market to customers seeking our products, training and certification in hospitality management and food safety. We now host more than 20 industry events annually, including the NRA Show, which brings together some 68,000 people over a four-day period each May in Chicago. Data will fuel the engine that makes our offerings more personalized and valuable to our stakeholders. Excellent data can also enhance our story-telling and advocacy as we promote our industry to the public, lawmakers and the media.
In your opinion, what are some of the pros and cons of being an Illinois business?
Today, we have locations in Illinois, Florida, Michigan, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia. The Chicago community has been extremely beneficial for the NRA. We have been given access to great people and received tremendous support for the NRA Show, which has become a marquee business event in the Midwest. The Illinois technology community, in particular, has proven to be a vibrant and fantastic source of inspiration and knowledge sharing. Our technology team is proud to be active members of this community and we want to continue to attract and employ talented people from the area.
What are the biggest challenges you face as you scale your business?
Scaling our business to account for growth is a significant challenge to have! We have acquired several companies over the last two years and continue our work to integrate and assimilate new products, people and processes.
We are also focused on expanding our employees' skill sets to makes sure we can maintain and take advantage of market opportunities. Maintaining this edge includes managing external partnerships, upgrading technologies, and participating in process design that changes and creates new ways of working.
This one is all you. Anything else you want to tell us?
The National Restaurant Association and the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation stand ready to assist the restaurant and foodservice industry in meeting increased guest expectations and attaining continued prosperity. Through our strategic plan, we will foster a stronger industry community and image, and enable the industry to influence the legislative and regulatory environment in which it operates. We are excited by the possibilities as we continue to advance and protect America's restaurant entrepreneurs.