The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington has made a number of positive changes to its annual RAMMY Awards over the past couple years. They started recognizing food and drink producers. They split beer and cocktail programs into separate categories. And they’ve gotten rid of the all-time worst category: Power Spot of the Year. But the restaurant industry awards could still use an overhaul if they want to be more credible and fair. Here are five things that need to change:

1. Open up the awards to non-RAMW members.

Every year, someone always asks the same questions: “Why wasn’t Rose’s Luxury nominated for an award? How come Komi didn’t get recognized?” The answer is that they’re not RAMW members, and if you want to be considered for an award, you have to pay to play. I get it—eligibility for a RAMMY award can be one of the big reasons—and sometimes the only reason—why some restaurants become RAMW members. The association doesn’t want to lose members, and they want to have something special just for their members. But by restricting the competition to those who are part of the club, the awards can never be legitimately representative of D.C.’s dining scene.

Aside from the blaring omission of big names (like Rose’s Luxury and Komi) that choose not to partake, smaller mom and pop operations that don’t see a financial incentive to fork over a few hundred dollars for a RAMW membership continue to go unrecognized. If you look at the list of nominees, the vast majority come from restaurant groups with multiple businesses and more resources. The awards would be much more diverse if everyone was eligible.

The James Beard Foundation opens up its national awards to all chefs and restaurants regardless of their affiliation to the group. It’s about time the RAMMYS did the same.

2. Turn Regional Food and Beverage Producer of the Year into multiple categories.

Props to RAMW for recognizing that the food and drink scene is about much more than bars and restaurants. But this category makes no sense. This year, two distilleries competed against a brewery, a vineyard, and a gelato maker. Last year, an oyster farmer and charcuterie producer were also in the mix. There is no way anyone can compare these extremely different types of businesses. This is the equivalent of sticking costume designers, sound editors, and cinematographers in the same category at the Oscars.

The first change RAMW should make is to create new categories for Brewery of the Year and Distillery of the Year. The booze business is booming in the D.C. area, so there would be plenty of potential nominees, especially if RAMW adopts my first suggestion. A Brewery of the Year category would also take the awkwardness out of the Beer Program of the Year category, which pits restaurants that make their own beer on-site against regular bars.

3. Let winners remain eligible for the same award multiple years in a row.

Under the current rules, if you win an award, you aren’t eligible to be nominated again in that same category for five years. I understand the desire to want to give others a shot. But if you are truly the best pastry chef or have the best beer program year after year, why shouldn’t you be recognized for that? Winning the Super Bowl doesn’t disqualify a team from winning the following year. Let’s recognize the best of the best as long as they can stay on top.

4. Allow nominees to be eligible for all awards after only one year.

Nominees for Favorite Gathering Place of the Year must be open for at least five years prior to Dec. 1, 2014 to be eligible for the award. For “fast bite” and cocktail program nominees, it’s one year. For Everyday Casual Restaurant of the Year, it’s two years. This variation in required age seems somewhat arbitrary. Why not make all potential nominees eligible for all categories after just one year of business?  After one year, restaurants are enough in their grooves that they should be able to compete with restaurants that are two or more years old. And the truth is some of the best restaurants are the newer ones.

5. Rename “upscale casual brunch” and “everyday casual brunch” categories.

Upscale casual is an oxymoron, and brunch isn’t “everyday.” Let’s just call these “upscale brunch” and “casual brunch.”

Photo by Jessica Sidman

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