After announcing a joint operating agreement a year ago, the Washington Restaurant Association and Washington Lodging Association have merged to become the Washington Hospitality Association.
The new home is the same home — the familiar white building on Plum Street in Olympia that is occupied by the restaurant association. But now the new association will expand into the entire 10,000-square-foot building, said longtime restaurant association President and Chief Executive Anthony Anton. A lodging association office north of Seattle has since closed, he said.
The decision to ultimately merge began as a conversation about how the two associations could work together, Anton said, but finally evolved to “maybe we just need to be together.”
Anton now leads the new association, while Jan Simon, the former president and chief executive of the Washington Lodging Association, is no longer with the association, he said.
Now that the new association has formed, it has work to do, such as helping the restaurant industry fill an estimated shortage of 9,000 line cooks statewide. That shortfall is partly the result of a strong economy pulling people into different careers, but there are some other factors as well, Anton said.
We sat down with Anton to ask him five questions about the new association.
Question: Why does this merger make sense?
Answer: The biggest reason is that we are entering a whole new era of business, and the industry needed to come together to help it evolve in the coming years. We needed each other to be stronger to provide information, create better programs and to take on the increasingly challenging regulatory environment. Employees have become 40 percent of the cost of doing business, so we need more support and training. Also, how do we spend less on administration and more on the things that move the industry forward.
Q: What’s on the minds of restaurant and hotel owners as we head into the new legislative session?
A: They’re going to be about solutions. At one time, we simply said “no.” But we came out in favor of the higher minimum wage and paid sick leave — if done right. In other words, how can we get there and not say no? We want to try to treat the problems the same way we treat our guests. We’re moving from “no” to sitting back and saying we want to help our communities succeed, and what does that solution look like? It’s worth it and it positions the industry in a much better way.
Q: Why is there such a shortage of line cooks?
A: We’re not translating to a new generation of workers. They see restaurant work as a counter job, so we need to put the spotlight on the career ladder and show them that their is growth that can lead to a job as a server, who, with tips, makes $65,000 a year. We haven’t been talking to employees about the opportunities.
Q: What’s the sign of a good restaurant or hotel?
A: A smile at the front door. A smile tells me they’re excited to see me and that they love their job and are going to do a good job. They’re glad that I’m here and they care about my experience.
Q: And if they don’t smile?
A: Then I ask: Do they really care? Is the food that I’m going to have the best they have to give? Or, is the experience I’m about to have one they’re proud of?
Washington Hospitality Association
Leadership: President and Chief Executive Anthony Anton.
Location: 510 Plum St. SE, Olympia.
Type of organization: Statewide association that represents the interests of the hospitality industry.
Years as an organization: New. The merger of the Washington Restaurant Association and Washington Lodging Association took effect Oct. 1. The restaurant association dates to 1929, while the lodging association got its start in 1920.
Did you know? Long before he led the hospitality association, Anton worked in family-run restaurants at the Washington State Fairgrounds. What does he miss about that work? “Running the grill, making burgers and interacting with customers,” he said. What does he not miss about that work? “Cleaning out the grease traps.”
Want to run a restaurant in Thurston County? Average annual sales are about $770,000 with a 4 percent profit margin. That’s about $31,000, according to hospitality association data.