How the Restaurant Industry is Supporting the American DreamRestaurateurs have a taste for success that is helping grow the industry for future generations.
As income inequality continues to rise in the United States, so are feelings of disillusionment with the American dream. Research from Harvard indicates half of all millennials believe the American dream to be dead.
But even in the midst of a shrinking middle class, the restaurant industry stands firm as a land of opportunity. According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), 80 percent of restaurant owners start in entry-level positions and work their way up.
Related: NCR’s Guide to Starting a Restaurant
The restaurant industry is one of the final bastions of the American dream, said Karen Bremer, CEO of the Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA). “Creating a business empire for yourself does not require a college degree. If you go to work in a restaurant and work hard, you will succeed.”
Bremer herself started out in the restaurant business at age 15 at S&S Cafeteria, working her way up from food service to marketing and management. She then served as a manager for the Peasant Restaurant Group in Atlanta and was ultimately named its president. Over her career, Bremer owned several restaurants before taking on her current role at the GRA.
“I fell in love with opening and operating restaurants,” she said. “It’s a fun industry. You work hard, but you know you’re taking care of people. And if service to others and taking responsibility are strong personal values of yours, it’s very appealing.”
An open door for anyone
One in three Americans get first job experience in a restaurant, with nearly half of all U.S. adults work in the industry at some point in their lives, the NRA estimates. Why? Restaurants are more labor intensive, which means more job opportunities, said Bremer.
“You need a lot of hands. You need the hands taking new orders, the hands feeding the people, the hands washing the dishes, the hands plating the salad. So there’s a lot more employees in the business than one would really think.”
Because restaurant jobs don’t require a college degree, the industry is a great way for anyone to enter the workforce and work his or her way up, regardless of race, gender, history or education level.
A huge economic contributor
The restaurant industry is also a great contributor to the small business community — and the economy as a whole.
“We are the second largest private sector industry in the U.S.,” said Bremer. Only agribusiness is bigger. Sales in the restaurant industry are projected to top $798.7 billion this year and total four percent of the entire gross domestic product.
Further, the NRA estimates one in ten working Americans are currently in the restaurant industry — that’s 14.7 million people, with projections that 1.6 million additional jobs will be added to the industry over the next decade — and many of them pay well, said Bremer.
“The restaurant industry has been growing middle class jobs between $45,000 and $75,000 at a rate of roughly 28 percent, versus the rest of the business sector at eight percent. So the industry is doing some pretty amazing things in terms of job growth and great wages.”
Nurturing the American dream in others
As a restaurant owner, you have a unique opportunity to support both the restaurant business as a whole and help rising entrepreneurs achieve the American dream for themselves. Here’s how.
Share your story. One way to encourage others in their journey is by simply telling your story — and there are tons of different stories to share. Did you start in an entry-level position and work your way up? Are you a woman or minority owning your own restaurant? What were the hurdles you overcame along the way? Not only will your stories inspire others, it’s also great publicity for your own business.
Be an industry ambassador. While you could join a formal program to help promote the restaurant industry, such as the NRA’s America Works Here or ProStart campaigns, being an ambassador can be as easy as being involved in your community. Offer to give presentations at local high schools to help build awareness about the different types of career opportunities the industry provides — from cooking and serving, to purchasing, marketing, human resources and more.
Mentor your own employees. It’s easy to see who your most eager and opportunity-conscious employees are, so find ways to cultivate that passion into an entrepreneurship dream while on the job. Not only will it support the future of the restaurant industry, it will help the employee be better at their job.
“The most important asset a restaurateur has is his or her employees,” said Bremer. “I think our industry takes that probably more seriously than a lot of other industries. Because you are working nights, weekends and holidays, there tends to be a much closer relationship between the employers and their employees because of that.”