Looking forward to the next 100 years

Dawn Sweeney discusses technology, workforce trends and what’s going to propel the restaurant industry forward.

As the National Restaurant Association reflects on its centennial anniversary, it’s interesting to see the new issues and opportunities that face operators today—as well as the ones that seem to have been around for, well, a century.

Dawn Sweeney

We asked National Restaurant Association President and CEO Dawn Sweeney to share her perspective on how far the Association has come, where it’s heading and what challenges it will likely face in both the near and longterm.

How is the Association marking its centennial anniversary?

We have a lot to celebrate this year, not only to mark our centennial year but also to look forward to what is to come for the industry in our next 100 years. It is especially exciting to share in this milestone during the Show, which is also celebrating its centennial!  As we look to the next 100 years, we are focused on harnessing emerging innovations and making sure we continue to advance, protect and support this remarkable industry that we serve. 

What are the industry’s top advocacy priorities for the year ahead?

We are working at the federal, state and local levels to preserve policies that balance the needs of both employers and employees.  In Congress, we are supporting a bipartisan and bicameral correction to a drafting error in the 2017 tax legislation that is causing restaurants to slow or stop facility, equipment, and operational investments.  And we remain deeply focused on our partnerships with the State Restaurant Associations to address a host of state and local wage and other policy issues both proactively and responsively.

One of the big themes at this year’s Show is likely to be the off-premise boom. How is the Association adjusting to that new reality?

Amazingly, 63% of all restaurant traffic is off-premise today.  This changes how we think about menus, sustainability, packaging, technology, manufacturing, food safety and distribution.  At the Association, we must ensure our industry can accommodate customers who want the restaurant experience delivered to them with convenience and cost-effectiveness, while also ensuring food safety remains paramount.

How is the Association adjusting to the rising importance of technology in the industry?

Our industry’s ability to adapt to changing marketplace dynamics has helped us grow and thrive during the economic ups and downs of the last century and, most notably, during the last decade.  Our 2019 State of the Restaurant Industry Study reveals that more than eight in ten restaurant operators agree that the use of technology in a restaurant provides a competitive advantage, and many are planning to ramp up their investments in technology in 2019. And consumers, particularly those in emerging demographic groups, agree.

The biggest challenge facing the industry remains labor—a topic addressed at the first Show of the Association in 1919. What are you doing to address those challenges?

The more things change, as they say, the more they stay the same! We are, however, making progress. Last year, in partnership with the White House, we pledged to train 370,000 individuals over the next five years. This national jobs initiative includes our ProStart, apprenticeship, Restaurant Ready, scholarships, and military programs.  We want the next generation of the workforce to know what we already know: With hard work and dedication, the restaurant industry provides a bright future, full of promise for anyone who wants to be part of it.

Can you share any plans for the future, or preview new Association services or programs?

We are thrilled to officially launch our ServSuccess program at the Show this year. ServSuccess is the newest career development offering for the restaurant and hospitality industry, designed to help attract, upskill and retain more talent. ServSuccess includes an online suite of programs, courses, and exams designed to enhance and certify the competencies of working professionals in the restaurant and hospitality industry, with career ladders and lattices to recognize and reward those who build and enhance these competencies. ServSuccess will be a game changer for further professionalizing and positioning our workforce for even greater success.

This post is sponsored by The National Restaurant Association®

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