With just over a month under her belt as president of Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW), Kathy Hollinger is excited to move forward. She assumed the position Dec. 15, 2012, succeeding Lynne Breaux, the organization’s former president.
Hollinger was previously Agency Director and Film Commissioner of D.C. Motion Picture and TV Development, and founded Storyboard, LLC, a strategic communications agency dedicated to improving visibility for clients in both the private and public sectors. She has also worked for Comcast Cable, the Council of the District of Columbia, and American University, as an adjunct professor of entertainment communication. She has a Master of Arts in Public Communication and Public Policy from George Mason University, and a Bachelor of Arts from American University. Hollinger’s background and experience in strategic communications, public relations, marketing, external affairs and advocacy, namely, have equipped her with the knowledge and ability to help lead RAMW while working to represent and advance the restaurant industry in the District.
Hollinger shared reflections with The Georgetowner about her new presidency and the organization’s future, as well as her interests and personal life.
How have your past experiences helped to prepare you for this position as president of RAMW?
I think that the common thread is advocacy. I think in every position that I’ve been in, I have had to be an advocate for an industry. A lot of what the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington is about is focusing on that type of advocacy, to make sure that we are helping to position these restaurants to succeed, and continue to succeed, and focus on growth and ways to better serve and address the needs of industry stakeholders. I did that with film in the film community. I did that with Comcast and Comcast’s business interests. So, people who have worked locally and in this market understand that advocacy really is defined in many ways, but a lot of it has to do with representing the best interests of that industry at the time.
I think that having the opportunity to work in private sector, public sector, academia, political – in all of those arenas – has very much prepared me to come in, and work, and run an association. A lot of the core task of what I had to do in previous roles centered around advocacy and working with the business community. Those relationships that I have created over the last 20 years are really helpful in helping to continue the momentum of this association, and really build on all that we want to do moving forward.
What are you most looking forward to about working in this capacity?
I’ve been here a month, but I have had the pleasure of working with the association over the years, when the previous president was in place, so I’m familiar with the association. I’m looking forward most to working with – and building personal relationships with – current members, and reaching out to new ones. We are seeing such growth. We want to make sure that we can reach as many new members [as possible], as well as continuing to provide value to our current members so that all restaurants are experiencing the renaissance in this region and are also represented, and have great representation, when it comes to their interests from a business owner’s standpoint.
What do you believe will be your biggest challenge this year?
Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t really think about it in terms of a challenge. But, I do think about it in terms of opportunities: to really find ways to enhance our programming, to augment some of the services that are currently offered, and to help restaurants in the region to build stronger businesses. I think that currently we have some great services that we offer to our membership, but [must also] really listen to the industry to see how we can refine those services and create additional ones.
Restaurant Week is Feb. 4-10. How many restaurants traditionally participate?
Over the last couple of years, we have had about 200 to 250 restaurants participate. The association has worked very hard to grow the promotion of this Restaurant Week with the launch of a new website. We have helped to develop marketing packages and tools to make sure that our members can get their messages out and make the most of their investment in the event. We have seen so much energy and so much enthusiasm, so we are hoping for and expecting the same level of participation, if not more.
How would you like to see participation grow? Have you used social media to help with publicizing Restaurant Week?
We have seen such a spike in traffic directed to our Restaurant Week website and social media, and that has been a very big deal for us; the association has really taken a lot of time to invest in a website that is going to make a lot of sense for those participating, and really give the type of information that consumers want when they are thinking about where to participate during that week.
We are a small staff, but a very, very talented and driven staff. To be able to put effort into something that is just yielding such positive returns is really rewarding for everyone.
We absolutely know that we have to use and leverage social media more. It is definitely a priority for us, going forward. Facebook and Twitter are incredible tools that restaurants use, and we want to make sure as an association that we use those same tools.
Will you be participating in Restaurant Week?
I participate literally every year: I personally do, my friends do, my family does. It’s something that we always look forward to, and we plan to do the same this year.
Do you have a favorite Valentine’s Day restaurant?
I don’t have a favorite Valentine’s Day restaurant, but I do always try to go out for Valentine’s Day. I don’t know if it will be a family Valentine’s Day or a date night Valentine’s Day.
What I do love about Valentine’s Day is that it is another opportunity for restaurants to really be able to promote and market their individual packages. I’m hoping that the city sees a lot of excitement coming off of Restaurant Week and that it sees the same excitement going out for Valentine’s Day.
Where are you from originally, and where do you live now?
I grew up in Philadelphia, and I have been in D.C. for 25 years. I came down to go to American University, and I virtually never left. I live very close to the university, and I am very tied to this area. It’s very near and dear to me. I still live in D.C. and I live in The Palisades.
What is your favorite food?
I don’t know if I can answer that one… I can answer it by saying that I really love food – I do genuinely love it all. There are very, very few things that I do not eat.
What is your favorite music?
I would have to say that Stevie Wonder is one of my favorite artists. If I had to pick a genre that I really love, I would pick jazz.
What do you like to do for fun?
I love to walk, I love to hike, I love to bike, and I love spending time with my family, especially my five-year-old. He’s a little boy with a lot of energy, and he has already in his five years grown up in the restaurant industry, eating out constantly.