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Special Reports

How We Got Here: 1930s

Photograph: Shutterstock

After relocating from Kansas City, Mo., to the more central location of Chicago, the National Restaurant Association continued to focus on Depression issues, including a perceived need to ease the burden of occupancy costs through rent abatements for restaurants. Often, those operations were the only local businesses that were still hiring. Tougher times also mandated better management practices, prompting the association to focus on core disciplines such as controlling costs, cutting food waste and planning menus strategically. 

Considerable top- and bottom-line help was provided by the repeal of Prohibition and a codification of best business practices under President Franklin Roosevelt’s National Industrial Recovery Act. But not all relations with the government were harmonious. Restaurants griped about competition from government-operated facilities and kitchens that were set up for military personnel and a rapidly growing federal government. Taxes were blasted as a staggering burden.

Middecade brought what was believed to be the first “restaurant week,” convened on a national basis by the Association.

In a reflection of changing sensibilities, the Association convened a conference specifically for female restaurant executives. It would not be long before the group appointed its first female president. Among her achievements was the establishment of the Educational Department, a precursor to the Educational Foundation. Its focus was on training more women for key industry positions, an orientation that would serve the business well as war approached and the male workforce was pressed into military service.

By the numbers

In 1938, the average restaurant grossed about $19,047 annually and dropped $1,678 to the bottom line, according to annualized data from accounting firm Horwath & Horwath. Total compensation topped $4,340, and yearly rent averaged about $1,300.

1920s1940s | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s | 2010s

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