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CIRA...Will it be the Independents Vs. the Chains?

They met in the desert, but the meeting really wasn't some clandestine and top-secret paramilitary type operation. They met at the luxurious Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, and even several members of the media were present (including the Restaurant Report). It was to be the first major meeting of a new group known as CIRA, which stands for the Council of Independent Restaurants of America, and major restaurateurs from all over the United States were in attendance.

We see the formation of CIRA as a major story in the hospitality business because the reason for this association was somewhat inevitable. It all comes down to survival, and there is a significant segment of the independent community that feels extremely threatened by the chains. Some see this competition as an unfortunate reality of the modern food world; some see at as just some intensified emotional stress; some predict a skirmish; and of course, many see it as all out war.

Chains have been around for a long time, and the independents were more than willing to tolerate their growth when the chains were truly the chains. But when they started looking like and behaving like the independents, the threat became more noticeable; and this added stress pushed many into a battle mode.

The chains bring some formidable advantages to the table - most notably, big money. Big money buys the prime real estate, and big bucks result in dramatic purchasing power, and all that green stuff buys tons and tons of advertising, and the basic ownership of the electronic media. And as the folks at CIRA put it, "If the dinner-house chains have their way, the dining scene in most cities will soon offer the limited choices that consumers now find in shopping malls throughout America: the same 30 or 40 stores in every location. We don't want to follow in their footsteps!"

All this is not to suggest that the mission of CIRA is a mission of chain bashing. The true mission as presented is that "CIRA is a national trade and marketing association comprised of independent restaurateurs operating fine-dining establishments devoted to the highest standards of food and service. It has been founded to represent the interests of independent operators and to establish a proactive marketing program that will meet the challenge of the national dinner-house restaurant chains now making significant inroads in every marketing territory in America."

Chef Bob Kinkaid And Bob Kinkead, the President of CIRA discussed the issues as he sees them "How can the independents attract the attention of bankers and real estate developers, and how do we find and retain key employees? Also, one of the hottest topics among independent restaurateurs today is the feasibility of forming purchasing groups at the local and regional level to allow the independents to enjoy the same cost advantages through group buying power as the chains. And advertising is critical - our program will develop and place advertising in major consumer publications as well as in the electronic media."

Mr. Kinkead adds the following "CIRA's priority is to educate the consumer as to why the quality of food and service at an independent restaurant will always surpass that found in a chain establishment. I really don't see our mission as good versus evil, but rather David vs. Goliath, and what bothers me is that nobody is fighting back." It's sounding like CIRA is getting ready to do just that.

For more information concerning membership, contact Phillip Cooke at CIRA Headquarters, 304 West Liberty Street, Louisville, KY 40202 - 502-583-3783 - e-mail:

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