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Advocacy Report


[Who We Are] As Executive Director of the Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA), it is a pleasure to represent over 16,000 restaurants in the state of Georgia. We serve as the voice of Georgia’s restaurants by advocating on behalf of the industry, through all levels of government, whether it be local, state or federal. The GRA protects restaurants through larger representation, serving as one unified voice. We work diligently to track thousands of pieces of legislation and keep an eye out for issues that may affect the industry. We exist for you, so you can focus on your day-to-day business. During the 2014 legislative session, the 40 days flew by fast and furious due to an election year. However, the GRA was successful in pushing for bills that support Georgia’s restaurants and pushing back against burdensome legislation. Overall, the 2014 session was relatively positive for businesses with the bills that made it through, such as Patent Trolls (HB 809), which prevents “patent trolls” from making bad-faith assertions of patent infringement, Homebrew (HB 737), to legalize the transportation of individual homebrew items following specific transpiration rules, Fortified Wines (SB 286) and more. Additionally, bills we opposed, such as Sick Pay (HB 290), Freedom of Religion (HB 1023, SB 377) and Driver’s Licenses (SB 404) did not make it through the 2014 session. Even when the legislative session ends, we are still fighting for the best interest of the industry. It is important that we maintain strong relationships with key decision makers throughout the year. We continue to communicate with our elected officials on a broad range of issues, whether it be through emails, phone calls, or in-person meetings. When our elected officials understand the economic impact of our industry on the state, being that the restaurant industry is the second largest in Georgia, it allows them to listen to our concerns and understand the significant consequences. In the Spring, the GRA attended the 2014 National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) Public Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C., where hundreds of restaurateurs attended the two-day event and visited more than 300 congressional offices to discuss the issues that matter the most to the restaurant industry. As the voice of Georgia’s restaurant industry, we will continue to make a strong presence, both on a local, state and national level, to ensure that our member’s concerns are heard. As an industry, we face real challenges and emerging uncertainties that threaten our livelihood and that of our employees. But one thing is certain: the GRA takes pride in our responsibility to save our members time and money by helping them tackle what matters most for their success and growth. By supporting your only industry association, you help the GRA to better serve Georgia’s Restaurants. With power in numbers, we create a vibrant presence across the state, enabling us to be as effective as possible.

Karen Bremer Executive Director, Georgia Restaurant Association

GRA Chair, Bob Campbell, GRA Executive Director, Karen Bremer and Senator Balfour.


Industry Reception During NCSL Conference.

[A day in the life...] The Georgia Restaurant Association highly focuses on representing the restaurant industry on a local, state and national level. We serve as the voice of Georgia’s restaurants by advocating and protecting restaurants through larger representation. Each legislative session, the GRA works diligently to get legislation passed that will represent the best interest of Georgia’s restaurant industry. So what does a day in the life look like at the GRA during legislative session?

7:00 a.m. -Read the newspapers for legislative updates. Check emails.

7:30 a.m. -Attend another partner association’s annual legislative breakfast. A former U.S. Secretary of Commerce engages attendees on issues such as immigration and the nation’s workforce. The Governor, Lt. Governor and House Speaker also provide their input on the legislative session.

9:00 a.m. -Email alert. A legislator has tactfully inserted language into a bill that has nothing to do with the original content. Add the afternoon committee hearing to my agenda.

9:15 a.m. -Head down to the Capitol for a committee meeting on either regulated industries, agriculture and consumer affairs, or public safety. All three registered lobbyists at the GRA attend different committee meetings to monitor our legislative concerns.

10:15 a.m. -Hop on a conference call with the GRA Public Affairs Committee. Discuss the status of bills we are tracking. Create our position statements, discuss upcoming events and fundraisers, and deliberate any action items that need immediate attention.

11:30 a.m. -Take the head of the Department of Public Health, or other regulatory department official, to lunch at a GRA member restaurant. Building the relationship to encourage their support on a particular piece of legislation.

1:00 p.m. -Return to the office to craft the weekly email blast sent to members of the association, updating them on the latest news regarding legislation affecting the industry. Meanwhile, there are several messages on my desk, mostly calls from elected officials wanting to know our stance on certain issues.

3:30 p.m. -Weekly email has been sent out. Return to the Capitol for a committee hearing regarding the language that was discreetly inserted into a bill this morning.

4:30 p.m. -Passing through the halls of the Capitol, I run into several elected officials that have been extremely difficult to contact. Now it is time to persuade them face to face-to-support our stance on our legislative agenda.

5:30 p.m. -Attend an industry event down at the Freight Depot for the purpose of connecting with elected officials and other community partners while raising awareness for that industry.


Local Level Advocacy is the primary responsibility of the GRA. We are determined to get legislation passed that will represent the best interest of Georgia’s restaurant industry. As the voice of Georgia’s restaurant industry, we continue to make a strong presence, even on a local level, to ensure that our member’s concerns are heard.

Fulton County | Smoking Ban Earlier in 2014, the GRA was alerted of a possible Fulton County smoking ban in private clubs and bars. Working with our Fulton County Commissioners, the GRA, as well as potentially affected member restaurants, swiftly stopped further developments.


City of Atlanta | Severe Penalties for Violation of Alcohol Ordinance Volunteer leaders from business and citizens groups with the City of Atlanta Alcohol Task-force Advisory Group (ATAG) worked for two years to recommend a progressive discipline process (based on severity of the infraction and the past record of the establishment) of alcohol violations. However, the recommendation was re-written by a council member to place a mandatory 30 days suspension on the first violation, without ATAG’s knowledge. A grassroots campaign was launched to urge Mayor Reed to veto this ordinance. The ordinance was sent back to council and was amended to lower the suspension minimum to 5 days from 30. The GRA will continue efforts to revise the severity of these ordinances. City of Atlanta | Allow BYOB without a "Bottle House License" The city of Atlanta has not enforced Bring-Your-Own-Beverage (BYOB) laws or “Bottle House License” requirements for the past fifteen or more years. However, alerts sparked a possible reinforcement of these laws and requirements, thus gathering attention from restaurants that allow BYOB. A violation of these laws results in serious and costly penalties for a restaurateur. The GRA worked with the City of Atlanta to strike all reference to Bottle House licensing, therefore authorizing holders of alcohol licenses for on-premises consumption to allow guests to bring in their own alcohol. The existence of the Bottle House regulations has caused confusion throughout the community and needed clarification. City of Savannah | Bar Code The GRA has been working with the City of Savannah to amend their Alcoholic Beverage Code. Areas of interest include: clarification on whether bars and grocery stores would be allowed to have both a liquor and package sales license at the same location; “hybrid” restaurants (those that close their kitchen and operate as a bar afterwards) definition changes, and bar card requirements. This continues to be a work in progress for the GRA. The GRA also continues to work on allowing restaurants to conduct their own catering service in parks and green spaces, without having to use an outside alcohol vendor. City of Tifton | Sunday Liquor Sales The GRA was successful in working with the Tifton City Council to place a Sunday Sales referendum on their November 2013 ballot. With a 481 to 343 vote, Sunday alcohol sales are now allowed at 12:30 a.m. to midnight for restaurants and 12:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. for retail stores.


State Level Serving a strong network of restaurant and supplier members, Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA) staff members—three of whom are registered state lobbyists—monitor the critical legislative issues. We have established a bill tracking system, keep our members up-to-date through GRA Action Alerts and weekly advocacy bulletins during legislative session, as well as serve as a reliable source of information.

Patent Trolls This bill amends the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act to prevent "patent trolls" from making bad-faith assertions of patent infringement. When litigation is threatened on a restaurant over the use of common technologies like Wi-Fi, web-based nutrition calculators and GPS store locators, the impact can be damaging. This will help targeted companies in fighting back. Guns Legislation allowing guns in restaurants was passed back in 2010. This new wave of gun legislation adds churches, bars and airports to the list. The GRA supports the right of private property owners to make their own decision on whether or not they allow guns on their property. If they do not want guns in their establishment, property owners can post a sign in their window.


Sunday Alcohol Sales: St. Patrick’s Day This bill allows for bars to sell alcohol on Sundays in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Signed by Governor Deal into law on March 18, 2014. The GRA was behind getting this bill passed just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, 2014. Regulation of Taxis Over the past couple of years, startup car services such as Uber or Lyft have aggressively made its way into the Atlanta transportation industry. Taxi cab companies were noting that these new startups should have to comply with the same regulations as they are legally required to follow. House Bill 907 did not make it through the session, so legislation to regulate car services is stalled for now. The GRA testified on behalf of the new startups and supports, not only an abundance of transportation options, but a safe ride home. Religious Freedom Bill This bill sought to protect religious freedom to act according to one's beliefs despite a government rule or regulation unless government could prove otherwise. The GRA was in opposition and worked with the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce to prevent amendment language from being inserted into active bills. On the last day of the 2014 legislative session, amendment language was inserted but the GRA and other concerned business organizations and citizens were successful in getting the language removed. Drivers Licenses This bill’s original intent was to aid the Secretary of State’s office in the citizenship status verification of professional license renewals. However, language was inserted into the bill during a Senate committee meeting that would prevent DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) individuals from the ability to renew their license. The GRA worked with members of the Senate to kill the bill.


National Level The Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA) and National Restaurant Association (NRA) work together to make our industry’s impact even larger. We are fighting issues that affect your day-to-day business and work to lessen the impact of bills that are being passed. All GRA restaurant members have dual membership in the NRA, which means that we’re represented at our nation’s capital on the broad range of issues that impacts our industry. Changing Full-time Definition under Health Care Law Currently, the health care law defines full-time as 30 hours per week. Restaurant operators are in support of changing the full-time definition to a length more in line with common business practices. As of right now, this definition will put immense pressure on business owners to cut costs, increase prices, or eliminate jobs. If the definition of full-time is changed to 40 hours per week, employers will be able to provide more hours to employees, and increase take-home pay.


Minimum Wage Increases Union-backed labor groups have held several protests throughout several different major U.S. cities over the summer of 2013, into 2014. The protests focus on a $15 minimum wage increase. The GRA opposes any further federal- or state-mandated increases in the starting wage. To create an environment which fosters competition and business growth, employers need the flexibility to pay wages dictated by the market. Ninety-five percent of restaurant employees earn wages in excess of the federal minimum wage. Immigration Reform Outlook Restaurants, like many other American industries, depend on immigrants to fill positions in their workforce that are critical to their ability to continue to operate and expand. The focus of the immigration reform debate has been in the House of Representatives since a comprehensive reform bill passed the Senate in June 2013. The House may not take up the Senate’s bill, however they may take on elements of reform in separate bills. Georgia, like many states, would benefit from immigration reform on a federal level because it maximizes the businesses ability to grow and hire. Mandatory EpiPens in Restaurants This proposed legislation would have required restaurants to have at least one EpiPen in their establishment, in case someone has a food allergy attack. This raised many red flags within the restaurant industry. EpiPens can range from $100 to $200 per pen. Not only would the costs be burdensome for a restaurant, but other factors, such as training staff on how to use the pen and the overall liability, was too onerous. The industry came together and expressed their opposition, thus killing any legislation before being proposed on a national or state level.

Commissioner of Agriculture Black, GRA Executive Director, Karen Bremer and Governor Deal.


GRA representatives and Congressman Collins at the NRA Public Affairs Conference.

Advisory Board

Board of Directors

Patrick Cuccaro—Affairs to Remember Caterers Phil Hickey—National Restaurant Association Pano Karatassos—Buckhead Life Restaurant Group Alan LeBlanc—Max Lager’s Wood-Fired Grill & Brewery George McKerrow—Ted’s Montana Grill John Metz—Sterling Spoon Culinary Mgmt., Marlow’s Tavern, Aqua Blue Nancy Oswald—Ruth’s Chris Steak House M. Anderson Piper—Chick-fil-A, Inc. Jim Squire—Chairman Emeritus, Firestorm

Archna Becker—Bhojanic Will Bernardi—O.S.I. Restaurant Group | Carrabba’s, Bonefish Grill, Outback Steakhouse Brian Bullock—Legacy Restaurant Group Chris Coan—Gas South Cathy Colasanto—Turner Food & Spirits Co. Paul Damico—Moe’s Southwest Grill ® Walt Davis—Retail Data Systems Michael Deihl—A Kitchen Kalamity Dale Gordon DeSena—Taste of Atlanta | DG Publishing & Events Sponsorship Tripp Harrison—Sterling Hospitality| Sterling Spoon Culinary Management Julie Kritz—Chick-fil-A, Inc. Perry McGuire—Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP Mick Miklos—National Restaurant Association Marcus Montgomery—Buffalo Wild Wings Nils Okeson—Arby’s Restaurant Group Krista Schulte—The Coca-Cola Company Steve Simon—Fifth Group Restaurants Mitch Skandalakis—Waffle House, Inc. Kelvin Slater—Blue Moon Pizza Jay Swift—4th & Swift

Executive Committee Chair – Bob Campbell—TM Restaurant Group Vice Chair – Ryan Turner—Unsukay Community of Businesses Past Chair – Hank Clark—Sterling Hospitality | Marlow’s Tavern Secretary – Paul Baldasaro—Buckhead Life Restaurant Group Treasurer – Clay Mingus—La Cima Restaurants, LLC Executive Director – Karen Bremer—Georgia Restaurant Association

25 Board Members | Leading 10 Staff Members | Serving 1 Voice for Our Industry Meet the GRA Staff Karen I. Bremer--Executive Director Marketing & Communications Rachel Bell--Marketing & Communications Manager Sydne Daniels--Marketing & Events Coordinator Nina Kamber--Marketing & Communications Coordinator Public Affairs Katie Jones--Public Affairs Coordinator

Business Development Ryan Costigan--Manager of Membership Tandelyn Daniel--Member Development Executive Chris Hardman--Member Development Executive Membership Services Yvonne Morgan--Administrative Services Coordinator Zero Waste Zones Kelly Schenck--Zero Waste Zones Manager


[Bill Tracking] Bill



HB 60

Would allow guns in churches, bars and government buildings. Private property owners still can decide whether or not to allow them.

No Position Signed into Law

HB 384

Would include natural gas as an alternate fuel and provide tax credits for purchasers of alternative fuel vehicles.

Supported Signed into Law

HB 670

To simplify current system and create a more accurate database, company trade names are to be registered with the clerk of the superior court.

Supported Governor Vetoed

HB 737

Serves as a clarification to last year’s HB 99 “Malt Beverage” bill to legalize the transportation of individual homebrew items to other individual private residences for personal consumption and to completions, following specific transpiration rules.

SupportedSigned into Law

HB 772

Food stamp recipients can now be drug-tested.

No Position Signed into Law

HB 778

Exempts from a foodservice permit non-profit homes, or other residential structures, where seriously ill or injured children and their families are provided temporary accommodations in proximity to their treatment hospitals, specifically Ronald McDonald homes.

Supported Signed into Law

HB 816

Direct mail is no longer subject to state sales tax on postage.

Supported Signed into Law

HB 825

Would allow fruit growers licensed as farm wineries to obtain a license authorizing production of distilled spirits and fortified wines from left over fruit.

Supported Signed into Law

HB 809

Amends Georgia Fair Business Practices Act to prevent "patent trolls" from making bad-faith assertions of patent infringement. This will help targeted companies in fighting back.

Supported Signed into Law

HB 947

Would allow companies to issue prepaid debit cards as an alternative method to pay their employees.

Supported Dead in Session

HB 954

Allows companies to utilize rental property revenue in determining fair market value. This may be of interest to property owners who lease-back.

Supported Signed into Law

SB 286

Would change maximum alcohol volume content in fortified wines from 21 to 24 percent to match the federal limit. Would require wineries who utilize distilled spirits in their fortified wines to purchase only from wholesalers or distilled spirits manufacturers. Georgia wineries could produce port type wines.

Supported Signed into Law

SB 318

Allows for bars to sell alcohol on Sundays in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.

Supported Signed into Law

Georgia Restaurants by the Numbers... Sales

In 2014, Georgia’s restaurants are projected to register $16.5 billion in sales.


In 2012, there were 16,484 eating and drinking places in Georgia.

Power of $1

Every $1 spent in Georgia’s restaurants generates an additional $1.12 in sales for the state economy.

Power of $1M

Every $1 million spent in Georgia’s restaurants generates an additional 26.1 jobs in the state.

Restaurants employ an estimated 405,800 people in Georgia.


2014 Jobs

2024 Jobs



Restaurant Jobs Are


Of Georgia’s Workforce

Piedmont Place | 3520 Piedmont Road | Suite 130 | Atlanta, GA 30305 p: 404.467.9000 | tollfree: 866.467.2201 | f: 404.467.2206 |


Job Growth

Over the Next Decade

Advocacy Report 2014  

Advocacy is a major focus of the Georgia Restaurant Association’s (GRA) mission. We take pride in our responsibility to represent the best i...

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