The restaurant industry plays a crucial role in the U.S. economy. In 2015, the industry will generate $709.2 billion in sales ($1.9 billion per day!), occupy 1 million locations, and employ 14 million people.
Those numbers add up to four percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, 47 percent of the food dollars spent, and 10 percent of the overall U.S. workforce. With so much at stake, restaurateurs look to the National Restaurant Association (NRA) to provide the support and advocacy the industry needs.
The largest foodservice trade association (by membership) on the planet, the NRA supports nearly 500,000 restaurant businesses. “We promote entrepreneurship and hospitality,” the NRA summarizes. “We advocate for pro-restaurant regulation and operational freedom. And we empower all restaurant owners to achieve even more success than they thought possible.”
Based in Washington D.C., the NRA works in partnership with state restaurant associations to help empower restaurant owners and operators throughout the nation. Specific services cover the breadth and depth of industry needs, from advocacy and representation to education, solution building, and philanthropic initiatives. “We save our members time, money and headaches by helping them take on what matters most for their success and growth – whether that’s protecting their economic interests, sharing best practices, or getting them in front of emerging trends,” the NRA explains.
Public policy often has a direct effect on restaurant industry performance, and the NRA has a strong presence on Capitol Hill to make sure industry needs are well represented. “We are the voice of the industry,” says Phil Kafarakis, Chief Innovation & Member Advancement Officer for the NRA.
The team tracks thousands of regulatory and legislative developments at the federal, state and local levels. Not surprisingly, the Affordable Care Act has been one of the greatest areas of focus for the NRA in recent years – and the battle goes on. The NRA is guiding members through the myriad complications that are surfacing with implementation, says Mr. Kafarakis. “We at the NRA have to be at the table,” Mr. Kafarakis points out. “We have to be part of that conversation. We have to advocate on behalf of the industry, as well as help with implementation.” For instance, the NRA is providing tools, support and guidance to restaurateurs as they navigate the new rules around caloric and nutrition labeling. The seemingly straightforward requirement is actually rife with complexities and the NRA is stepping in to support the industry throughout the transition.
The NRA is also engaged in an ongoing fight to prevent franchisors from being labeled “joint employers” with franchisees, which would upend a decades-old relationship standard. The proposed joint-employer standard threatens the successful franchise model and discourages entrepreneurship, which could have a negative effect on the economy at large, the NRA insists. “It is a very big issue, not only for the restaurant industry but all industries with a franchise business model.”
Education is also a huge part of the NRA’s mission. For instance, the organization’s ServSafe program provides the training needed to maintain important industry standards in health and safety. ServSafe Manager teaches about foodborne illness, how to prevent it, and how to train employees in food sanitation. ServSafe Food Handler teaches basic food safety practices to food handlers. ServSafe Alcohol delivers the essentials of responsible alcohol service while the newly released ServSafe Allergens focuses on keeping patrons with allergies safe while dining out. All ServSafe training programs give participants an opportunity to earn nationally accredited certifications. At nearly 20 years old, ServSafe is the undisputed leader in food safety and education. “ServSafe is the standard in the industry,” says Mr. Kafarakis.
ProStart is another key initiative. Along with national and local support from industry members, educators, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF), and state restaurant association partners, the program delivers an industry-driven curriculum taught to more than 118,000 students in 1,700 high schools across 48 states, the territory of Guam and in U.S. Department of Defense schools in Europe and the Pacific. ProStart walks these high school students through key aspects of the industry, from culinary techniques to management skills, providing hands-on, real-life experience and building practical skills that the students will draw on for years to come. Graduates receive an industry-recognized certificate that demonstrates the completion of 400 mentored work hours, a passing grade on two national exams, and a mastery of foundational skills. Numerous restaurant, foodservice and hospitality programs offer benefits to ProStart graduates, including scholarships, class credits and credit toward work experience requirements, giving them a jumpstart on their future career within the food industry.
Whether advocating on Capitol Hill or providing crucial education, the NRA is all about creating opportunities for operators of all sizes. Indeed, the restaurant business provides a remarkable platform from which hardworking individuals can launch a successful and fulfilling career. According to the NRA, nine in 10 restaurant managers and eight in 10 restaurant owners started their industry careers in entry-level positions. “We want to help people get established with careers and achieve their dreams,” says Mr. Kafarakis. “This is one of the few industries that gives everyone – regardless of their background – the opportunity to work hard and succeed. The NRA is committed to representing those people.” Furthermore, most restaurant operations are relatively small, increasing the need for group-sponsored advocacy and support. Nine in 10 American restaurants have fewer than 50 employees and seven in 10 restaurants are single-unit operations, the NRA reports.
Although there are certainly challenges to overcome, Mr. Kafarakis is extremely optimistic about the direction that the industry is headed. “We think the future is going to be bright. Right now, there is lots of investment coming in. The opportunities available to restaurateurs who want to grow have never been so plentiful.”
An increasing number of restaurateurs are taking advantage of these opportunities, leading to a wealth of exciting new industry models. Suddenly, food trucks are parked at every corner. The fast casual concept – which was virtually unheard of just a decade ago – is all the rage. Even grocery store chains and gas stations are vying for a slice of the pie, serving up hot food that goes far beyond a traditional deli counter or slushy machine. “Consumers are demanding that you change with them,” Mr. Kafarakis explains. This change bodes well for consumers, restaurateurs, and the economy as a whole – by the year 2025 the industry is expected to create an additional 1.7 million restaurant jobs. And, the NRA will be there every step of the way, supporting this growth and success.