Despite recent protests organized by national labor unions, the majority of restaurant workers are proud of their jobs and the opportunities they have to advance in a growing sector of the economy. Yet because their membership rolls are at all-time lows, Service Employees International Union and other national labor organizations have put significant financial resources behind efforts to attack the restaurant industry and disparage the millions of jobs it supports.
What you won’t hear any of the union organizers who flew into Durham last week talk about is the menu of opportunities the restaurant industry offers to more than 13 million people of varying ages and experience levels across the nation.
As a restaurant owner and operator, I know how important the restaurant industry is to North Carolina and the benefits the industry brings to my employees and our community.
I started in the restaurant industry as a cook in one of my parents’ restaurants. I grew up watching their hard work – they built their restaurants from a single location into a nine-location company over the years. After working in the restaurants as a cook, I took over operations of the location where I started at age 19, assumed the lease at 23 and became the company president in 1983.
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I’m grateful for the experience I gained in the industry – and I’m not alone. In fact, 9 out of 10 restaurant employees and owners say they are proud to work in a restaurant. When you consider that nearly half of all adults have worked in a restaurant at some point during their lives, it’s a safe bet that a lot of people are happy with their experience in the industry.
Why are they happy? Because the restaurant industry offers opportunity no matter who you are or where you come from. A job in a restaurant, regardless of your age or experience, is a great place to learn critical skills that stay with you throughout your career such as personal responsibility, teamwork and accountability.
A survey of restaurant employees released earlier this month showed that the industry reflects a diverse and vibrant group, ranging in ages and differing in backgrounds. From a young student working part time while in school to a senior citizen who got in the business after having another career, restaurants provide opportunity for all who join them.
Like me, those who start in a restaurant have the opportunity to continue a successful and satisfying career in the industry. Roughly 7 of 10 current restaurant employees say they will likely continue working in the industry. Perhaps this is because it’s an industry that fosters and thrives on upward mobility: 9 out of 10 individuals in business operation positions at restaurants have advanced to higher-paying jobs in the industry, as have 88 percent of chefs and cooks and 97 percent of managers.
This is an industry that is truly based on the American dream – if you work hard, you will succeed. Take Randy Swanson from Swansboro. Randy started in the restaurant industry 37 years ago at age 13 and has seen immense success since then. He began his career in a restaurant earning minimum wage. Now, he owns and operates two of his own restaurants with a total of 50 employees: The Icehouse Waterfront Restaurant and The Boro Café.
Our restaurants provide opportunity and a path for career advancement for a diverse workforce and act as a community base. They don’t deserve the negative attention they have been receiving. I am proud to be a part of the industry here in North Carolina, and I know there are many more like me.
Ken Conrad of McLeansville is chairman of Libby Hill Seafood Restaurants.