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Hong Kong Palace will never win a RAMMY.

I don’t mean to mock the dining awards passed out each year by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. Well, maybe I do, but not to the degree they might think. I do think it’s important to acknowledge and reward quality, so that it may continue for years to come. But I also think the RAMMYs can feel like fossilized clams casino covered in amber from the Katharine Graham era.

This year’s RAMMY finalists were announced yesterday, and I’m really trying to muster the requisite enthusiasm for them. But several awards—-those for best restaurant manager, restaurant employee, and associate member (whatever that is)—-are so insider-y that no one, outside folks neck-deep in the industry, could care about them. Others sound like awards you would have bestowed back when Frank and Deano and Sammy ruled the world. Seriously, categories like “Power Spot” and “Hottest Restaurant Bar Scene”? Why don’t y’all just have one titled “Place to Pick Up an Easy Dame”?

OK, I’m over the top here. But my point is this: If RAMW wants the public to support and rally around this annual event, it needs to drag the awards into the modern era. Ditch the inside-baseball awards (or at least downplay them like the Oscars do with their technical awards) and get rid of the dated categories that only confirm D.C. as a power-mad outpost lacking finesse.

Instead, why not add categories that average eaters would be interesting in? Bartender/Mixologist? Local/Sustainable Restaurant? Vegetarian Menu? Restaurant Design? Late Night Restaurant? Best Kept D.C. Secret? The list is almost endless.

The thing is, RAMW would need to think outside its members-only box to put together an awards program that’s relevant to most eaters. As it stands, all the award finalists are drawn only from RAMW members, which number about 550 (not including 140 associate members, companies such as EagleBank and Sysco). That limits the pool of potential winners, not to mention categories. There are small-but-substantial restaurants—-places like Hong Kong Palace or Joe’s Noodle House or Nava Thai or or even Ray’s Hell Burgers and Urban Bar-B-Que—-that will never get the acknowledgment they deserve, just because they’re not members or refuse to play the game.

Whatever the reason, the RAMMYs won’t have the sway they could have until some changes are made.