June 06, 2024

Hill Runners keep industry front and center in Congress

Program pairs legislators with operators who can explain how legislation affects restaurants and constituents at home.

Hill Runner Vincenza Carrieri-Russo, left, with the Association’s Sean Kennedy, second left, and fellow Hill Runners Lance Trenary and Ryan German at this year’s Public Affairs Conference.

The National Restaurant Association continues to recruit restaurateurs to its “Hill Runner” grassroots initiative, where operators connect with members of Congress to develop one-on-one relationships and take the time to discuss the impact of legislation on the restaurant industry.

Today, 200 operators in 38 states serve as Hill Runners for the Association, and we are continuing to expand our reach.

Running up that Hill

Created in 2021 by Sean Kennedy, EVP of Public Affairs, and Mike Whatley, VP of State Affairs and Grassroots Advocacy, and the Association’s grassroots team, the Hill Runner program allows restaurant owners to connect face-to-face with members of Congress and share stories of how the laws Congress considers impact their restaurants—positively and negatively—and the communities they serve. The ultimate goal is to pair one operator with each member of Congress.

“After the pandemic, there were many operators who we knew would continue to grow the relationships they created as grassroots advocates for the industry,” said Kennedy. “The Hill Runner program provides the support these operators need to strengthen their relationship with one of their members of Congress and become valuable resources about a major industry in the Member’s district.”

Importance of being heard

One of the biggest advocacy lessons learned during the pandemic was one of the most basic – storytelling matters.  “We came out with a heightened appreciation of how effective and important operators’ experience—real life stories—can be in helping lawmakers understand the various business models within the industry and the unique operational challenges within each,” Whatley said.

“When advocacy went virtual, it opened opportunities for more face-to-face Zoom meetings with members of Congress and their staff,” he added. “Everyone was interested in the efforts operators were making to stay in business.”

Even as the economy began to reopen, those survival stories continued to be important because restaurants were limited by pandemic regulations far longer than most businesses.”

Support for Hill Runners

Hill Runners, business owners actively engaged with the industry and their communities, are tasked with helping their representatives understand how laws, rules, and regulations under consideration in Congress could affect their constituents’ operations, communities, and local economy. 

To ensure Hill Runners have the information necessary to explain often complex topics, the Association holds briefing calls every other month and conducts in-person training during its annual Public Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C. 

It also develops unique policy briefs that explain how and why proposed legislation benefits or hinders restaurant businesses, which Hill Runners leave behind with representatives for reference.

During the last two years, Hill Runners have focused on talking with lawmakers about how their businesses would be impacted by such legislation as a tax bill that would help them invest in renovations and innovations to stay competitive and the Credit Card Competition Act, which would help lower swipe fees (one of an operation’s highest costs). 

“Ultimately, the success of the program will be measured by each Hill Runner’s ability to tell the industry’s stories in a personal way to members of Congress,” Whatley says. “It’s important for our representatives to understand the complexity of  running a restaurant business and the impact that legislation has on success.”

Interested in becoming a Hill Runner? Join here, and learn more about advocacy for the restaurant industry here.