The NJ Restaurant and Hospitality Association Has a Full Plate

Immigration, workforce development and new business models are key concerns for NJ’s restaurants, hotels.

NJRHA president Marilou Halvorsen looks after the interestes of the state's restaurant and hotel owners.
NJRHA president Marilou Halvorsen looks after the interestes of the state's restaurant and hotel owners.
Photo courtesy of NJRHA

When you sit down at a restaurant or check into a hotel, it’s unlikely you are thinking about how policy makers in Trenton and Washington, D.C., are affecting those businesses. But make no mistake, the hospitality industry is not immune to changes in policy or the disruption of new business models.

As president of the NJ Restaurant and Hospitality Association, Marilou Halvorsen is keenly aware of the issues affecting her constituents. The Trenton-based organization supports and advocates for owners and operators of restaurants, lodging establishments and entertainment destinations throughout the state. I recently spoke with Halvorsen about the association’s current concerns.

What are the pressing topics on the association’s agenda? Workforce development is extremely important to us. Aside from our normal advocacy, what we do as an association is educate people to work in restaurants. This doesn’t necessarily mean becoming chefs, but we train people to work in the restaurant industry as well as hotels, and then help match them with our members.

Does the industry have trouble filling jobs? People get nervous about applying. You don’t need to go to culinary school to work in a restaurant, so we are working on creating programs and implementing them to assist in workforce development.

Some restaurants are concerned about how President Trump’s immigration policy will affect staffing. What is the association doing on this front? First and foremost, the association believes that all employees should be required to show proper proof authorizing them to work, whether it’s a green card or other documentation. While restaurants sometimes have limited ability or resources to vet employees, there are programs such as E-Verify and services offered through payroll companies that can help confirm that someone they are hiring has the necessary paperwork.

Where does the organization stand on immigration reform? The NJRHA supports comprehensive immigration reform…. Most, if not all, restaurants in New Jersey have first- or second-generation immigrants working there, and that is vital to the success of our industry. We hope that the leadership in our state do something to address long-term immigration reform and protect the important visa programs that our industry relies on.

How does minimum-wage policy impact the restaurant workforce? Tipped employees must make the same minimum wage as everyone else. Federal law requires that employers pay no less than $2.13 for all such hours, and if the tips over the required $2.13 don’t amount to whatever the minimum wage is at the time, the employer must make up the difference in the employee’s paycheck.

How does the growth of Airbnb affect your members? Airbnb does not pay a sales tax or occupancy tax. If you are acting as a business, you should pay the same taxes. Also, Airbnb should be expected to adhere to the same regulations and zoning rules as hotels. For example, if you open a hotel, you must let the town know that you are doing so. If you have a home operating as a hotel—an Airbnb—the neighbors don’t know there is a hotel next door. The police don’t know. It is not on their radar, so there could be issues with human trafficking or prostitution.

What does the future hold for the hospitality industry? This is an industry that can’t be outsourced. Unfortunately, due to the poor business climate, New Jersey’s industry is projected to grow at a much slower pace than our neighboring states. We are an industry of opportunity, second chances and the possibility to realize the American Dream. We should help small business thrive.

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