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    Associations That Offer Bang for the Buck

  • Six groups that are worth your money and time.

    In this do-it-all-from-the-desk age made possible by all things online, it’s more important than ever to participate in organizations that allow opportunity for networking, advanced education, and industry involvement. Some associations do all that and more—worth the bucks it takes to join while returning value in tangible and intangible ways. Here are QSR’s top picks.

    Research Chefs Association (RCA)

    The Research Chefs Association’s 2,300 members, who are largely culinarians, food scientists, students, and manufacturers, are a microcosm of the food research and development world, reflecting the entire R&D process from concept to market.

    RCA’s focus is clear, promoting its coined term and discipline culinology, the blending of culinary arts and the science of food.

    For Sheila Carpenter, in R&D with Southeastern Mills Custom Food Coatings, of Rome, Georgia, the membership dues are more than offset by the value of learning food trends among the association’s chef members.

    “I see what they are doing and bring those ideas to the mass market,” she says of the batters, breadings, and seasonings she helps the company develop.

    Annual membership fees vary by discipline: $135 for culinology and chef members and $400 for suppliers, distributors, and sales and marketing professionals.

    “Being an active member of RCA lends me a lot of credibility and professional recognition,” says chef and food scientist Susan Edwards with Cryovac Food Solutions, of Duncan, South Carolina. She is on RCA’s board of directors.

    “When I go to meet a new person, if I tell them my title, that’s one thing,” she says. “But when I mention something about RCA, it’s a whole different conversation, and it matters.”

    For others, the designation of Certified Research Chef or Certified Culinary Scientist, matters. RCA is the certifier of those credentials.

    Among the tangible benefits of an RCA membership are subscriptions to RCA and related publications, access to members-only online features like the membership directory, access to a list of job postings, and discounts to RCA events, workshops, and certification programs.

    International Food Service Executives Association (IFSEA)

    For the upper echelon in foodservice and hospitality, whether it’s executive chefs, restaurant owners, general managers, catering directors, or others in management, membership in the International Food Service Executives Association provides benefits that other organizations can’t.

    IFSEA, founded in 1901, is particularly appealing to executives with a heart for the military. It assists the Army and Navy by evaluating their foodservice programs, allowing members to travel as evaluators.

    IFSEA serves as an intimate fraternity of about 800 executives and would-be leaders from a broad range of foodservice operations, providing support, education, and Food Service Executive certification. It is also well suited for students and those already in the industry who want to move into management positions. The joining fee for them is $49.

    IFSEA’s Certified Foodservice Executive Program is one of the first foodservice certification programs in the country, and in May the association revised its program, giving more importance to industry experience in order to receive one of the three certification designations.

    Using a point system, certification requirements involve education, experience, and industry service.

    Helping students rise in the foodservice industry is fulfilling to IFSEA member Dave Orosz, corporate director of revenue management for Noble Investment Group, an Atlanta-based franchise company that focuses on hotels. He is involved in the Scholarship Program.

    “I want to see [students] succeed, helping them further their career as they are getting started,” he says, adding that when he was in college, the IFSEA chairman got him involved in IFSEA.

    National Restaurant Association (NRA)

    The Daddy of all foodservice associations, the National Restaurant Association has its finger on the industry pulse, and membership allows access to research and benchmarking best practices to the 400,000 member locations with about 40,000 organizational members.

    The NRA has a dual membership agreement with the network of 53 state restaurant associations, and as a result, the cost to join NRA varies by state.

    Industry advocacy is one of NRA’s stand-out features, which benefits members and nonmembers. Membership, however, provides the opportunity to engage in the advocacy process.

    “Members work with us and the state associations, forming policy positions,” says James Balda, NRA’s chief marketing and communications officer.

    The association also serves as a trusted advisor on important issues, like health care reform, food safety, credit card processing, and sustainability. In areas like these, it develops programs, materials, webinars, and research reports to members.

    While NRA’s annual Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show is the premier industry trade show, the state associations offer their own bevy of networking and education events.

    Executive study groups focusing op topics like human resources, information technology, and tax and finance, meet once or twice a year in a conference format to share best practices.

    Training the next generation of foodservice operators is another main focus of NRA through its Education Foundation, providing scholarships, and its ProStart two-year program for high school students, complete with culinary competitions.

    NRA members come from all segments of restaurants and foodservice operations as well as allied industries, such as suppliers, distributors, consultants, and educators and students.