A Great Reason To Dine Out

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - September 06, 2006
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When you live on an island, you hear a lot about supporting the local community and how your dollars are important. Support of local farmers, fishermen and small-business owners is crucial to our economy, and most of us willingly seek out local business to lend our support.

One of the easiest ways to help might surprise you. Eating out as often as possible helps maintain an industry that is one of the largest employers in the state - our restaurants.

Most people don’t realize that their dining dollars go to work hardest when they’re applied to eating out. The restaurant industry employs more than 13 percent of the state’s total work force, and will pay in excess of $800 million in wages this year. On a typical day in Hawaii, you and I are helping to contribute more than $7.5 million to the more than 3,800 restaurants in the state. That’s about $2.8 billion annually.

Pretty impressive figures. But the restaurant industry struggles on an almost daily basis with issues that are at the heart of most small businesses. Minimum wage disputes, affordable health care, tip credit reform and trivial lawsuits are among their most pressing problems.

“For most people, the problems of the restaurant industry aren’t that well-known,” says former HRA chair and co-owner of Tiki’s Grill and Bar, Bill Tobin.

Beau Mohr, current chair of HRA, agrees. He says that restaurants actually contribute even more than just turning tax dollars in to the state.

“We employ engineers and architects and plumbers and repairmen - we buy equipment, purchase food; we’re actually a huge part of the economy both nationally and locally.”

Most small businesses face challenges - but the restaurant industry, because of its huge interaction with millions of customers, faces more.

“It’s things like frivolous law suits that affect us,” says Tobin, “people who want to sue because they trip in a restaurant, or believe they have food poisoning, or sue because they think restaurants have contributed to them becoming obese.”

Not that the HRA is looking for sympathy - in fact, it’s been growing in strength and numbers over the past couple of years to a point where people are starting to take notice of what its members have to say.

“We have much better lines of communication nowadays,” says Tobin. “Our membership is strong and our grassroots infrastructure is growing, too. Just being able to get people to go out and vote is possible now.”

The changes were largely due to Tobin, who increased membership dramatically during his reign as chair, and who has succeeded in introducing the organization and its members to other community groups. And his lead will be followed by Mohr, a passionate supporter of the industry.

But is it really that simple - support your local restaurants and you support the economy?

“It’s that simple,” says Tobin. “Don’t feel guilty about going out to eat. Many times it can be less expensive than eating at home - and you don’t have the hassle of cleaning up the kitchen at 9 o’clock at night. I’ve heard people say that they feel bad because they’ve eaten out four times in a week, and they feel like they should stay home and cook. I tell them, ‘You’re supporting our industry, don’t feel guilty.’”

Mohr agrees. “It’s up to us to provide an environment where people want to take their families to dinner and where people can come to have a good time. And hopefully we’re doing that.”

So the next time you’re thinking about where to take the family for dinner, be it a mom-andpop-run place or the fanciest restaurant on the Island, remember this: Your dollars are contributing to the health and growth of our community. Eating out is good for all of us.

Happy eating!

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