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A new nonprofit organization is trying to provide more support, resources and advocacy for restaurant owners and operators as they navigate a new (digital) normal.

Digital Restaurant Association launches to support restaurants in a digital era

The Digital Restaurant Association provides educational resources, technology solutions and local advocacy support for the restaurant industry.

We all know the pandemic was a massive catalyst in the acceleration of digital behaviors and that restaurants were forced to adjust accordingly. We also know this adjustment was too big a weight to bear for many small and independent restaurants.

A new nonprofit organization is trying to provide more support, resources and advocacy for restaurant owners and operators as they navigate a new (digital) normal. The Digital Restaurant Association launched today after nearly a year of foundational research. It is the brainchild of Bradley Tusk, a venture capitalist and political strategist who recruited his friend Joe Reinstein to be the DRA’s executive director. The two met while Reinstein was working as the deputy social secretary for the Obama Administration. Notably, Reinstein previously worked in the restaurant industry, including with Taco Bell on the marketing/advertising side. His subsequent experience has been marrying the world of advertising and marketing to the world of digital media, which he calls “fortuitous because that’s the way the world was going.”

During a phone interview Wednesday, Reinstein outlined his approach and priorities as this organization gets off the ground.

“I’ve been on the phone talking to restaurant owners and operators nonstop for the past eight months trying to understand their biggest challenges around digital technology so we can figure out how to grow and be profitable again in this new normal,” he said.

Those challenges including not having the infrastructure or resources to support the exponential growth in digital sales and having to rely completely on third-party companies to support them.

“Third-party, online delivery services sort of saved the industry because of the lifeline they created during the pandemic. Fast forward and it’s changed consumer behavior forever and opened up a world of restaurants that people never had access to,” he said. “But a lot of restaurants don’t have the infrastructure and resources to deal with it. That’s where we come in.”

The DRA is focused on three main areas to provide such support. The first is by providing educational resources. Reinstein said the association has collected information from “some of the biggest enterprise restaurant chains” that want to share their best practices to help other restaurants.

The second is providing technology solutions and recommendations. For example, the DRA’s tech partner Ovation manages customer engagement and satisfaction feedback, which helps restaurants impacted by negative experiences that may be out of their control because they were created by third-party aggregates.

“We partner with technology solutions like that to serve them up as options for our members. It’s up to the restaurants to seek them out, we’re just vetting and presenting them,” Reinstein said.

The third area of support the DRA provides is also its biggest priority, he adds, and that is public policy advocacy. Specifically, the association is focused on legislation in markets across the country that directly impacts restaurants, including fee transparency and customer information sharing. Such legislation is currently in motion in several states, like Georgia and Florida.

“Everyone should know what they’re paying and who the ultimate recipient is. Right now, it’s confusing. Our research tells us customers think a lot of their money is going to the restaurants and that’s not always the case. Also, the smallest restaurants with the least ability to pay are actually paying the highest fees,” Reinstein said. “With fee transparency advocacy, we want to rebalance the playing field. We don’t want to dictate the free market, but let’s make sure customers have the information so they can make informed decisions.”

Similarly, on customer data sharing, Reinstein adds that McDonald’s, for example, should be connected directly to customers who search for Big Macs.

“If McDonald’s spends millions of dollars a year to convince people to have a Big Mac, they have the right to know who those Big Mac customers are. That’s not the delivery platform’s customer. That’s their customer,” he said.

Reinstein makes it a point to note the DRA has been working closely with the National Restaurant Association on much of this advocacy work. The association has also been working with large chains, independents and everyone in between, and has had productive conversations with third-party aggregates as well. Such collaboration, he adds, is necessary to achieve the DRA’s objectives.

“The restaurant industry will never be the same if we don’t act now. If only the powerful and most resourced restaurants can play in this new dynamic, the entire fabric of our communities – the cultural richness we get from the variety of food options and independent players – are going to fail and go away,” he said. “They won’t be able to compete in this new world unless we level the playing field.”

Reinstein makes a final point that if the DRA is able to achieve its objectives, it could have a short shelf life and his “job will be done.”

“I’m very optimistic about getting done what we want to get done,” he said.

There are currently no membership requirements to join the DRA. The association is now accepting members and invites all owners and operators to join. More information is available at

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

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