The Dining Dish blog is Dara Bunjon's take on anything food, both national and in her hometown of Baltimore. Warning: this food blog can be harmful to your waistline.

Friday, September 26, 2008

"Every Restaurant is the Fulfillment of Someone's Dream"

What is the state of the restaurant industry?

“Every restaurant is the fulfillment of someone’s dream”, quipped Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO of the National Restaurant Association (NRA). Ms. Sweeney was in town for the Mid-Atlantic Food, Beverage and Lodging Expo and was the keynote speaker at the Industry Leadership Breakfast hosted by Phillips Harborplace. Sweeney comes to the “table” with strong leadership credentials from AARP.

She is not shy to getting down and dirty for the betterment of the organization, immersing herself in the assorted positions held in the restaurant industry: line cook, expediter, front of house manager, and server. After 8 hours of being on her feet working at a food prep learning experience, Ms. Sweeney was tired but then thought of her co-worker who was heading out to his 2nd job and from there a 3rd. As Ms Sweeney said, “it reaffirms that the people in this industry work really, really hard.”

At this same breakfast last year, the then NRA CEO said that the number one issue was staffing for restaurants. But what a difference a year makes. Restaurant operators were surveyed and the number one and two concerns now are the economy and food costs.

Ms Sweeney offered out these statistics:

*the latest number on average annual household spending on restaurants is $2700

*the typical adult averages 6 "restaurant occasions" per week, since "eating out" might not be interpreted to include off-premises dining (such as takeout, delivery, drive-thru and curbside) which the 6 includes.

*the average daily spending at restaurants is over $1.5 Billion (or about $64 million per hour per day)

*The restaurant industry added 64,000 jobs this year

Dawn talked of a new 5 year plan to be introduced for the industry that stresses:

1. Sustainability and social responsibility
2. Food and healthy living *
3. Emphasize that the restaurant industry isn’t just a job, it is a career
4. Business advocacy – assistance with profitability

* Ms. Sweeney expressed her opinion on adult obesity saying what we choose to eat is our own personal responsibility.

Tacky, Tacky, Tacky

During the Q & A, I reiterated to Ms Sweeney and the attendees that I heard that customers, due to economic hard times, have chosen not to leave tips. The NRA president said interestingly that she had just heard that the night before. Dining Dish states unequivocally that if you can’t afford to leave a tip then maybe you should reevaluate your dining choices. This is not Europe, tips are not included in the food cost and most importantly servers rely on the tips as their income.

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