Mixed plate of restaurant issues face industry exec
THE big gun of the NRA arrives tonight.
Not the National Rifle Association, though. The visitor is the top food dude -- chairman of the National Restaurant Association.
Craig Miller is also president and chief executive officer of Ruth's Chris Steak House Inc., so his trip here will be twofold.
Having only three full days in the islands and wearing two hats, he will have zero down time, unlike his early 1970 R&R stop in Hawaii following a year in Vietnam. Ala Moana Center is nothing like he remembers it, your columnist assured him.
Part of Miller's day tomorrow will be spent at the Hawaii Convention Center where the Club Managers Association of America is staging a conference. It is a professional association for managers of membership clubs and it is a natural opportunity "to visit with each other," Miller said.
From there, Miller has more meetings, early morning media, meals and Maui. Oh, and a mixer.
His meetings include sessions with administrators and faculty of the University of Hawaii Travel Industry Management School; the Hawaii Restaurant Association; Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona and key lawmakers; and Ruth's Chris management here and on Maui.
He's got a luncheon at Shanghai Bistro, an HRA mixer at Yanni's at Restaurant Row (formerly Dolce and Phillip Paolo's); a dinner hosted by HRA Chairman Bill Tobin, not at Tobin's Tiki's Grill and Bar, but at L'Uraku; and probably some sort of meal on Maui, where there are Ruth's Chris Steak Houses in Lahaina and Wailea.
The media opportunities include a 6:45 a.m. Tuesday appearance on "Hawaii's Morning News" on KHON-TV.
"Part of my role is really to be a storyteller for the industry," Miller said.
Big issues the industry faces nationwide include minimum wage, the tip credit and immigration reform.
Hawaii's tip credit is 25 cents and has been since 1969. It is hourly money restaurateurs do not have to pay to tipped employees, who more than make up the quarter an hour via tips.
Hawaii "is the only state that has a tip credit of less than a dollar," Tobin said.
An increase would make it less costly for restaurateurs to raise pay for back-of-the-house personnel, such as kitchen employees, who cannot earn tips.
Minimum wage went up to $6.75 an hour in January and will rise again to $7.25 next January.
Arguments against a tip-credit increase are made by unions and by those who suspect restaurateurs would cheat employees by pocketing the savings, Tobin said. An amendment before lawmakers "mandates that the money has to go to the back-of-the-house employees."
Tobin has high hopes Miller's presence and persuasiveness in meetings with lawmakers will help the industry obtain favorable changes during this legislative session.
"We really try to help people understand that the restaurant industry is a real cornerstone of our communities; a cornerstone of our economy," and a major provider of job opportunities, Tobin said. "By bringing out the national chairman, we can help communicate that message more effectively to people."
There are more than 925,000 restaurants and food-service operations in the United States, which are on track to generate $511 billion in sales this year, Miller said. Hawaii's portion of that is $2.83 billion.
"Right now ... 47.5 percent of the (American) food budget is spent on food prepared away from home. That was 25 percent in 1955," Miller said.
"It is amazing how American consumers have embraced away-from-home dining."
The industry fears the hugfest is threatened by the economic and regulatory issues the NRA is fighting.
They are "things that challenge our industry and burden either our chains or small-business operators with excessive costs which eventually drive up the cost of a meal," Miller said.
is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at: email@example.com