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The restaurant industry offers careers, not place holders

If you ever find yourself frustrated in your career or worried about your job prospects, please try to resist uttering the words, “I could always go flip burgers.”

It implies that “burger flipping” aka “the restaurant industry” is a workplace of last resort. We’re not.  In fact, we are an industry loaded with opportunity for advancement, compensation based on performance, and entrepreneurship.

Today, one in ten Iowans work in Iowa’s restaurant industry. That’s 9 percent of the state’s work force (145,400 people).  There are more than 6,000 eating and drinking establishments generating $3.6 billion in annual revenue in Iowa. That doesn’t even take into account the industries built around providing goods and services to restaurants. Think of the financial impact food purveyors, soft drink and alcohol distributors, equipment manufacturers and other restaurant service providers have on the state’s economy.  It’s far reaching and financially significant.  

We’re proud of the fact that people can start out in entry-level positions and end up owners. One in three Iowans found their first job in a restaurant, but more significantly, 80 percent of restaurant owners started in entry-level positions within our industry. We’re one of the few industries where this trajectory of career growth is still possible. And while it’s true you can become an owner without an advanced degree, that’s not the only, or even the preferred path.

Iowa has eight college culinary/restaurant management programs and countless restaurant-focused career tech ed programs in high schools across the state. Just this month, the Iowa Restaurant Association along with DMACC Continuing Education, launched a Hospitality Professional Development Institute for those seeking industry-specific management, human resources and cost control training. Every restaurant in the state is required by law to have a certified food protection manager—a designation that requires a $150 full day course and a standardized exam.

Want sexy? There is an entire cable television network dedicated to our industry and a growing stable of celebrity chefs whom even elementary school children recognize.

We are also champions for diversity. The restaurant industry boasts more minority managers than any other industry and minority ownership figures are also high—particularly at a national level. Over the past several decades, there’s been an 80 percent increase in Hispanic-owned restaurant businesses, a 188 percent increase in African American-owned restaurant businesses, and a 50 percent increase in women-owned restaurants.  Nationally, 50 percent of all restaurant owners are women.  In fact, Iowa’s restaurant industry may well be the key to moving our state out of the basement of female-owned businesses (we currently rank 50th in the nation.)

I was recently discussing the perception that those of us in the restaurant industry “ended up here” versus “chose to be here” with a young man with an economics degree who left his traditional office job to return to a downtown Des Moines restaurant in a management role.

He explained to me, “I look out the window and think ‘I’m still doing all of the same business-focused work I did when I was stuck at a desk in one of those office buildings, but now I get to feed and entertain 300 people every day too.’ I like that.”

Most of us like it and we’re proud to be here.

So perhaps if you actually are frustrated with your career or worried about your job prospects, you should choose to join us—we’re not a place holder industry—we’re a world of opportunity.

--Jessica Dunker Career Fair Logo with Date and Location

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