Thankful for our November Member of the Month

“We’re in the food and beverage industry. We love to make people happy. When you see a smile on the face of a guest, that’s what makes it all.” – Leigh Doyle

At FRLA, we are thankful to have such supportive and involved members like our November Member of the Month, Leigh Doyle. Leigh is the Vice President for Ellie Lou’s Brews & BBQ in Ocoee, Florida, and serves on the board for our Central Florida chapter, as well as a chair on the legislative committee.

His career in the hospitality and tourism industry began at Disney World, where he served countless Dole Whips to smiling faces. It was working at Disney that Leigh found his passion for the industry. Now, as Vice President, he oversees 98 employees. Leigh and the Ellie Lou’s team partner with local schools to support programs they need assistance with at the time.

Thank you, Leigh, for your involvement and love for the industry. Be sure to watch his highlight if you haven’t already!


Medical Marijuana in the Workplace

In 2016, Florida voters soundly passed Amendment 2, Florida’s medical marijuana law, with over 71% of the vote.  Since then, two bills have been passed implementing the law, there was one high-profile lawsuit targeting the legislature’s initial ban on smoking medical marijuana, and the Office of Medical Marijuana Use was created as part of Florida’s Department of Health. We’d like to touch on what this means for marijuana in the workplace.

Where are we now?

Only “qualified patients” are entitled to use medical marijuana, which requires certification by a physician of a debilitating medical condition:  cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, PTSD, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, other medical conditions “of the same kind or class as or comparable” to the ones specifically identified, a terminal condition, and chronic nonmalignant pain.

Florida’s law specifically provides that no employment accommodations are required for any on-site medical marijuana use.  Thus, an employee can use medical marijuana on-site only if permitted by the employer.  Further, in order to qualify for a 5% discount on worker’s compensation premiums, employers are required to comply with the Drug Free Workplace Act, which demands a zero tolerance of illegal drug use (including marijuana, which is still illegal under federal law).

According to a June 21, 2019 report from Florida’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use Florida’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use, there have been 311,443 total patients in Florida who have been issued a medical marijuana card (more than double the number of total patients from the year before).  This roughly translates to about 1 in every 68 people in Florida having been issued a medical marijuana card.

Where are we going?

Based on trends in other states and changing attitudes towards marijuana usage generally, it would not be surprising if, over time, Florida’s medical marijuana laws expand and evolve.  Here are a few things we may see in the employment context:

  • Workers compensation. As noted above, many employers implement a drug-free workplace policy to receive a discount on their worker’s compensation insurance.  Florida’s medical marijuana law does not affect an employer’s ability to “establish, continue, or enforce” such a policy.  Consequently, employers who enforce a drug-free workplace policy may lawfully prohibit employees taking medical marijuana from work.  Additionally, medical marijuana is not reimbursable under workers compensation claims at this time.  Moving forward, however, workers compensation may change as medical marijuana becomes more accepted.  Some carriers have shown a willingness to reimburse for medical marijuana, and courts in some other states have required it.
  • Accommodations for medical marijuana. Marijuana (including medical marijuana) remains a schedule 1 narcotic and thus illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act.  Additionally, Florida’s medical marijuana law does not require employers to accommodate employees’ use of medical marijuana.  Early court decisions in states other than Florida have sided with employers on this issue, but there are some more recent cases that are more employee-friendly.  Indeed, there are some states that have written employee protections into their marijuana legalization statutes.
  • Less drug testing.  Many employers in Florida have stopped testing job applicants for evidence of marijuana usage.  This is because they have had trouble recruiting and hiring quality employees when they are forced to reject a significant slice of the population who uses medical or recreational marijuana.  Although we can expect employers to continue broad drug testing for employees who perform high-risk or safety-conscious jobs, the movement is to eliminate testing for marijuana usage for other, low-risk occupations.
  • Recreational usage of marijuana.  To date, there are 11 states plus the District of Columbia which have adopted laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use.  A Pew Research Center survey from 2018 found that 62% of Americans believe that marijuana should be legalized – this is double what it was in 2000 .  Thus, the trend certainly is for legalization of marijuana for all uses – medical and recreational.  It is not a stretch to believe that Florida will eventually follow this trend.

Tips for Employers:

Employers should give real thought to their businesses, the type of work the employees do, and the risks of employee use of medical marijuana, and then determine whether to  limit or prohibit medical marijuana in their drug-free workplace policies.  The discount on worker’s compensation premiums is a powerful incentive for a zero-tolerance policy, but it may be worth giving up that discount in order to attract a larger number of qualified employees.  Talking with an employment attorney about these issues can be a worthwhile investment, as an attorney can help to draft a policy that is specific to the employer’s needs and ensure that the policy complies with any changes in federal or state laws pertaining to medical marijuana.

Blog written by Sally R. Culley,, and Chase E. Hattaway,  You can find this blog in the Florida Restaurant and Lodging MagazineFall Edition

It’s a treat to honor our October Member of the Month

We are excited to honor our October Member of the Month, Matt Moore with Fish out of Water (FOOW). FOOW is located on Scenic 30A in a small town called WaterColor, and with a prime spot right along the beach, locals and visitors alike love to admire the views and catch the sunset at night. This awesome restaurant combines two of Florida’s popular cuisines, seafood and southern cooking, in a fun, welcoming setting.

Outside of serving food for their visitors, the Fish out of Water and WaterColor team coordinated with FRLA to serve hot meals to those in need in response to Hurricane Michael in 2018, and we are so appreciative of their help.

Check out this “Instagram Worthy” restaurant on your next trip to the Gulf Coast!

The Fastest Way to Get a Delivery Program Up and Running

Today’s restaurant operators can now use several channels to reach their guests, including:

  • bricks-and-mortar seating
  • catering
  • takeout
  • drive-thru
  • delivery

Digital ordering apps and online delivery platforms have grown the delivery channel exponentially.

Among them, online delivery — particularly, via third-party providers— is garnering the most attention because it holds the biggest promise of boosting sales. Last year, the research firm NPD reported a 20% increase in delivery sales and 10% gain in delivery foodservice visits, many them prompted via digital ordering. A Technomic restaurant operator report showed delivery generated incremental sales for 60% of those surveyed.

By all accounts, the delivery runway remains long. This year, for example, a Wells Fargo survey of nearly 500 consumers who ordered restaurant delivery at least once during the surveyed month found that respondents ordered delivery fewer than five times a month. The survey also noted 28% ordered delivery just once in the past month.

This channel is immature and has a long way to go to become economically viable on a long term basis. The marketplace is evolving and will change until it normalizes.

So if you’re among operators ready to leap on the bandwagon yet smart enough to grasp the pros and cons of online delivery, consider these five issues before signing a contract with a third-party delivery service. Or, more likely, services.

  • Footprint. Is there enough front-of-the-house space to accommodate both delivery drivers arriving with large sacks and dining-room guests waiting to be seated? If not, can the space be expanded to accommodate guests — and at what cost? Or will you have to devise rules for when and where drivers arrive and hang out while waiting for orders?
  • Seamlessness. The issue of seamlessly integrating third-party delivery technology into a restaurants’ point-of-sale system is improving. But that doesn’t mean your delivery service of choice will make it happen for you. Yet it shouldn’t be a dealbreaker if the delivery service hands you their tablet. But be aware that technology (via third-party integrators) does exist to flow orders directly into your POS. Companies that supply it include Ordermark, Omnivore, Chowly, and ItsaCheckmate.
  • Visibility. Images of your food will appear on a third-party’s website. Make sure the photos you supply not only make your dishes look inviting but fairly represent what is supposed to arrive at the customer’s door. Also, a good idea is to first “test drive” menu items yourself by putting them in a car and driving around to determine which hold up best after, say, an hour’s drive-time.
  • Data. Today’s big issue is, Who owns sales and customer-behavior data —  you the operator or the delivery service? For now, delivery services claim it, because in their mind they “own” the customer. But here’s the twist: If the delivery driver arrives late with cold food, guess who gets blamed? You do. And without customer details, how do you reach out and solve the problem? Worse: Ordering off of a third-party platform bypasses a restaurant’s loyalty program, depriving guests of a possible deal and operators of customer data.
  • Fees & pricing. There’s no such thing as “free delivery” — at least not for you, the operator. Third-party service fees may run as high as 30% of individual menu items, depending on an operator’s ability to negotiate a fair percentage. The bigger you are in terms of sales or number of units, the better your chances of negotiating a lower fee. One way to make up for high fees is to raise menu prices on delivered items. Yet check first with your third-party delivery firm. Some are known to frown it.

Blog written by Former restaurant CEO Fred LeFranc is the Founder/Chaos Strategist at Results Thru Strategy, the Charlotte, N.C.-based consulting firm he co-founded in 2009. This blog can be found in the Florida Restaurant and Lodging MagazineFall Edition

The Significant Role Plastic Straws Play in Health and Safety

Straws are often thought of as a modern-day convenience, but straws have been used by almost every culture throughout history. The oldest evidence of straw usage dates to Ancient Sumeria. Long, thin tubes of precious metals which were placed into jars of beer to reach the liquid beneath the fermentation were found in Sumerian royal tombs. Evidence of straw use by people across Mesopotamia, China, and the Americas, has been found. During the Industrial Revolution, people used straws to avoid flu and polio epidemics from communal cups used at popular soda fountains. However, no one has benefited more from the advances in straw design than the disability community.

One of the first straw patents ever filed was for the “improvement in drinking-tubes for invalids” by Eugene Chapin in 1870. When Joseph Friedman founded his Flex-straw Company in 1947, hospitals were the first to buy his patented bendy straw. When factories began churning out consumer plastics after World War II, not only were plastic straws convenient for fast-food consumers because they didn’t tear on the crosshairs of plastic lids like paper straws, but they provided a way for people with disabilities to drink both cold and hot beverages independently without worrying about choking,  breaking their teeth, bacterial infections, and allergic reactions.

Most people no longer use straws to avoid fermentation at the top of beverages, or to avoid disease from the use of communal cups. Straws have become a modern-day convenience for most. For people with disabilities, however, single-use plastic straws are still a vital piece of assistive technology that have no current viable replacement. This simple, plastic tube is just as essential to our day-to-day lives as a bowl, fork, curb cut, elevator, or any other accommodation we have come to expect in order to be a fully inclusive, integrated society.

As straw bans continue to pass across the country, the disability community continues to be left out of the discussion even though this is the community most impacted by them. Many lawmakers have passed straw bans with the intention of still providing access to those who need plastic straws, but frequently exceptions only apply to institutions providing medical care. A lot has changed since 1870. Most people with disabilities no longer reside in institutional care. We now live integrated within our communities. We attend school, we have jobs, we go to grocery stores, we have active social lives, we go out to restaurants, and we need access to single-use plastic straws in those places.

While our lives might have changed dramatically, most of the alternatives to plastic straws haven’t. Metal, paper, glass, and even plant-based straws might be marketed as new ideas, but most of these materials have been used for straws for hundreds of years. Even in their new designed forms, they still pose the same significant health risks that contributed to single-use plastic straws being used in lieu of them.

In the 1930’s, the average lifespan of a person with a disability was 23. Today, we have a lifespan of 70, close to that of the general population. While far from the sole contributing factor, there is no doubt that single-use plastic straws have contributed to our increased lifespans. Attempts to completely ban single-use plastic straws jeopardizes those gains. Any meaningful action to reduce single use plastics must consider the needs of this often-forgotten community.

Olivia Babis is the Public Policy Analyst at Disability Rights Florida. She was born with a physical disability which necessitates the use of single-use plastic straws, and other assistive technologies, so she can live independently.

The Inn-side scoop on our Member of the Month

Our September Member of the Month is inn-spiring! Meet Anthony Sexton, owner of the Victorian House Bed & Breakfast in St. Augustine. Anthony is a member of our newest chapter, the Florida Inns.

While he’s always loved the hospitality industry, managing an Inn is his first time on the lodging side. Now a seasoned innkeeper with 8 years of experience under his belt, he has enjoyed every minute tackling his goals with his wife, Marilyn, by his side.

Anthony truly has a passion for the hospitality industry, and enjoys getting to meet every friendly face that walks through the door. As an “ambassador” of St. Augustine, he always makes sure guests are set up for a successful trip!

Take a look at Anthony’s highlight video!

Know someone you think should be our next Member of the Month? Nominate them today!

Introducing the August Member of the Month

Our August Member of the Month entered the hospitality industry at a young age and has worked his way from the ground up. He has traveled near and far gaining experience in the industry and has made it a point to capture the beauty in each place with his passion for photography.

Introducing Ron Wichowski. Today, Ron is the General Manager of the Boca Raton Marriott at Boca Center. In addition to being an involved FRLA Palm Beach chapter member, he also serves on the board of directors of Discover the Palm Beaches. When asked about his passion for the industry, a colleague said “Ron makes it his personal mission to develop those around him each and every day.” To Ron, a successful day is seeing his team succeed.

We are proud to have Ron as our August Member of the Month. Be sure to check out his highlight!

Let the Beer Shine – Understand Beer Consumers to Increase Sales

While beer consumption across the globe seems to be stagnant or even slightly declining, there are certain markets within the beer industry that appear to be thriving. There is the old saying of consumers are “drinking less but drinking better.” Premium and craft beers seem to be responsible for this attitude.

Craft Breweries are small, independent operations. They produce roughly 6 million barrels of beer a year (or less) and are responsible for roughly 3 percent of annual U.S. sales. That last sentence should tell you they are the polar opposite of the major breweries in America.  The big brewers have been around for what seems like the entire history of this country and have survived prohibition.  To think that our craft breweries can topple these behemoths is unrealistic, but they can and do, carve out a very nice profitable piece of the market.

With over 7,000 breweries contributing to U.S. sales in 2018, the next question is “what do these craft beer drinkers look like?”

Craft beer drinkers are predominantly male, between the ages of 21-34 and typically earn between $75,000 and $99,000 annually. They drink craft beers weekly. This is a good start, but a survey conducted showed the above group is less than half of all craft beer drinkers. The remaining percentage consume craft beers several times a year, just not as regularly. The good news is under half of the individuals surveyed said that they are drinking more craft beer, while a third of the craft beer drinkers said they are drinking more in general.

How can you capitalize on this growing market? The following tips might be a good start!

  1. Invite New Beer Drinkers with Promos & Events

Many beer drinkers are intrigued by the idea of craft beers, but might feel a bit intimidated to explore and order something that they have never had before. Create events that allow beer drinkers to explore new flavors. Beer and bites perhaps? The launch of a new craft beer?

  1. Add Beer Cocktails to your Menu

Cocktails are fun and very friendly to the palate. Cocktails also allow you to play with different flavors that might be more approachable for some people.

  1. Market to Beer Lovers

Some of your customers already love craft beers, knowing and understanding what they are about. Make sure you are also creating opportunities for these beer lovers to visit your restaurant or bar more often. Happy Hour could be replaced with “Craft Beer Hour” certain days of the week, or you might just add a special menu for craft beer lovers during Happy Hour.

  1. Make it Easy!

It might be time to take another look at your menu and make sure you have enough craft beers to please all palates, but not so long and complex that it becomes a task to read the menu.

  1. Take it to a New Level

Place craft beers under a different light by creating beer and food pairings or by pairing local food with local craft beer. This approach will not only open the door to non-traditional beer drinkers but will also enhance the experience altogether.

Understanding as much as we can about a new market developing within the beer industry and the types of consumers who are interested in purchasing these products, we can make informed decision and begin to see the benefits of adding more choices for our guests.  Just in time for end-of-summer fun!

See more articles like this in the FR&L Magazine – Beverage Edition.

Human Trafficking Awareness: A Year Long Fight

The Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association (FRLA) is proud to be a part of fighting human trafficking. Although popular belief is that human trafficking occurs in seedy hotels in crime-ridden neighborhoods of border towns, the reality is that human trafficking can and does occur in many kinds of businesses at every price point. Efforts to spread awareness and much of the media coverage about this horrific crime tend to focus on sex trafficking, which is undeniably important. However, an equally problematic aspect of trafficking is labor trafficking. Essentially modern-day slavery, labor trafficking typically involves crews of workers like those frequently found in maintenance, agriculture, landscaping, construction and cleaning. A better understanding of the ways humans are trafficked and the ability to recognize the signs will help businesses and individuals alike work to fight this atrocity and make a difference, and FRLA hopes to raise awareness for this crime.

How Can We Help?

Florida is the third-highest state for human trafficking in the nation, and it is imperative that we all work together to ensure that our state is a safe and welcoming place for all who visit. That’s why FRLA worked with subject matter experts to develop an online training course designed specifically for hotels and restaurants to educate hospitality workers about the signs of human trafficking and help them know the steps to take should they suspect trafficking is occurring. Because we are so committed to helping spread awareness, we are offering the course completely free to anyone. The response to our course has been overwhelmingly positive, and I am proud of members who have taken the lead in the area by taking this course. Additionally, I commend those who are taking and implementing other human trafficking awareness training. Their dedication to understanding human trafficking will undoubtedly make a difference in the community and help keep residents and visitors alike safe.

While January is a month dedicated to raising awareness about human trafficking, we must continue to discuss this issue year-round. Awareness and education are critical components of fighting human trafficking, and FRLA is committed to continuing the conversation in a variety of ways. We work with organizations across the state to hold and participate in panel discussions and to advocate for training. I am proud of Florida’s hospitality industry for recognizing the threat that human trafficking poses and for taking a stand to say the Sunshine State is no place for traffickers.

Join FRLA and the rest of Florida’s hospitality industry as we work to raise awareness and fight human trafficking in our state.

To learn more about this free human trafficking training, visit

This opinion was written by Carol Dover, President and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.


Get to know our July Members of the Month

Congratulations to our July Members of the Month, Chris and Michelle Ponte!

Chris and Michelle are the proud owners of two fabulous restaurants in Tampa, Florida, and are preparing to open their third concept in the near future. In fact, this third concept, OLIVIA, is a true family affair. This couple has an unwavering love for the hospitality industry, and we had the opportunity to highlight this wonderful couple at their restaurant, Cafe Ponte, in St. Pete.

Chris has been working in the industry since he was a kid. Through his growing passion, he was provided with the opportunity to study at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, and propel his career even further. Hear more about this story in their highlight below.

Want to see our previous Members of the Month? Click here.