CULINTRO A Community for Restaurant Professionals
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Andrew Rigie - February 2010

How did you get to be the Director of the New York State Restaurant Association at such a young age?

I was hired as a membership sales representative by the New York State Restaurant Association in 2004. I grew up working in the industry and knew the challenges the industry faced. I was determined to help and was successful at recruiting new members. I then took on additional communication and development duties. My time working with NYSRA gave me greater insight into how the industry operates both operationally and politically. I had a vision for the Association and when my predecessor, Chuck Hunt, retired, the staff and membership supported and believed in my vision.

What was your career path leading up to it?

Often, when I was five years old, I would go with my grandfather to our family’s bakery & café, sometimes as early as 4:30 in the morning. I’d help him work and then take naps on bags of flour. I’ve done everything from washing dishes, waiting tables, working the grill, event planning and everything in between. I’ve taken classes in advertising, political science, radio & TV broadcasting & culinary management. I dabbled in stand-up comedy, worked on political campaigns, wrote a blog, hosted current events groups, read fervently, sold advertising on shopping carts, worked in the real estate and insurance industries and traveled the world. It was a culmination of my diverse experiences that led me to where I am today.

Can you describe what your job entails?

My job is to represent the restaurant, bar and nightlife industries on all political fronts by advocating on their behalf and organizing the industry in support or opposition to legislation and regulation. I also provide operational & legal consulting, whether it is for someone purchasing, operating or selling a restaurant. If I can’t assist them personally, I will connect them with someone within NYSRA or an industry professional, agency, etc. who can. I also provide newsletters that keep the industry up-to-date on insights, trends, laws & regulations. One of my favorite aspects is working one-on-one with operators to assist them with all industry related matters; sometimes it is simply listening to what’s on their minds. If something is related to the industry then it’s my job to help.

What are the toughest obstacles you face in your job?

One of the challenges is organizing the industry to oppose anti-business legislation. The restaurant and nightlife industries are vital economic engines that provide millions of jobs, provide billions of dollars in tax revenue, create opportunities for people from all walks of life and help stitch together the social fabric of our communities and culture. However, the nature of the industry requires long hours that make it difficult for the most well intentioned operators to write their political representatives, testify at hearings, etc. This makes the industry an easy target for over regulation and burdensome legislation, excessive fines and taxes. My primary objective is ensuring ongoing industry engagement and facilitating their involvement in a fashion that represents the industry’s vitality and protects its interests.

What are some valuable tips you can give to new restaurant operators?

To gain experience in as many areas of the industry as you can and surround yourself with a network of industry professionals; create a sound concept and culture for your business and create a positive work environment for your employees. Educate yourself on food & beverage, labor costs, etc. Be prepared and willing to adapt and of course provide quality products and service. Join the New York State Restaurant Association and utilize the myriad of member benefits, services and money saving programs and of course call on us whenever you need to.

How do the new labor laws that are being passed this spring impact the restaurant industry?

We anticipate this spring a new Minimum Wage Order for the Restaurant Industry will be promulgated. Many of the recent lawsuits have been brought about by complex, nuanced and confusing laws related to tip pooling, exemptions, service charges, overtime, etc., all of which are regulated by the wage order. The new Order should provided clarity, better descriptions and flexibility to accommodate the diverse operational styles of restaurants and provide a clearer understanding of how to comply.

Where do you see the restaurant industry headed in 5 years?

Thankfully there are reports that consumer confidence is up which should translate to the public patronizing restaurants more frequently. Overall it appears the public likes options, flexibility and accessibility. Whether it’s takeout, casual or fine dining people want to feel that they received good deals, tasty meals and that their overall dining experience was worth their investment. There is less discretionary spending amongst consumers than in the past, so the successful restaurateur will accommodate their patron’s desires and budgets. I believe we will continue to see a transition towards sustainability, locally sourced products and healthier options. New York is a culinary mecca and it will be up to the chefs and restaurateurs to provide the classics and innovate. I have no doubt that the industry will rebound within five years. However, going forward the growth may occur in a more cautious manner.

As a leading advisor to Culintro, what programs do you advise all members to take advantage of?

Don’t merely read and/or participate in programs of your specific areas of interest. Make sure you read the Culintro Report, attend the panel discussions and Cocktail Series events, etc. Culintro is a fantastic and evolving organization that provides a variety of resources to better develop you into the most experienced, knowledgeable and educated industry professional. That’s why I utilize all the resources and why you will find me at so many of their events.

What's your primary focus at NYSRA for next year?

In 2010 NYSRA's is celebrating our 75th anniversary. So we want to recognize many of our past efforts and achievements. Whether it was dealing with the plethora of regulatory government agencies that came with Roosevelt's "New Deal," or how in the 1940's NYSRA fought to allow women to work evening shifts at restaurants and got unemployment taxes on tips and counter sales reduced. We supported the industry through coffee shortages, meat shortages, energy crisis and much more.

This year we will continue to lobby against anti-business legislation and advocate for education rather than legislation. NYRSA will also provide consulting and money saving services and offer educational forums on topics ranging from labor law to going green. We are focused on providing a myriad of services to ensure the growth and success of the industry. It is the culmination of our efforts that will encourage more and more restaurants to join NYSRA in 2010.