Resilient restaurants a testament to people

Americans and Georgians alike may have recently been surprised by the employment figures released in early May by the U.S Department of Labor. However, these numbers came as no shock to restaurateurs. In April, the job growth of the restaurant industry rose nationally by 38,000 people.

For all of 2012, the number of restaurant jobs in Georgia grew by 11,800. These numbers demonstrate the resilience and strength of the restaurant industry in job creation.

Our sector continues to grow as the average American dines out five times a week. The dining dollars represent almost 48 cents of every food dollar spent in Atlanta as well as across the state of Georgia, which has held that market share even through uncertain economic times. The restaurant industry is one of the few industries that has recovered all of the jobs lost during the Great Recession, as well as created 105,000 additional jobs nationally over pre-recession jobs. This growth is made possible because our industry is truly an industry of opportunity.

The restaurant industry also gives you the freedom of what you want and when you want it. When dining out, you have the option to choose what you eat, where you eat and how you eat it. One of the many positive aspects is that the restaurant industry gives guests the option to help support local farmers and programs such as Kids LiveWell, an initiative in which restaurants provide healthy meals for children.

With so many choices in the food service industry comes the reliance of the help of many hands. Nearly half of all adults have worked in the restaurant industry at some point during their lives, and more than one out of three adults got their first job experience in a restaurant. Eighty-one percent of restaurant employees said that the restaurant industry is a place where people of all backgrounds can open their own business. Restaurants also employ more minority managers than any other industry.

Another reason our industry continues to grow is a testament to the people. Food service providers possess optimism, joy and pride in serving others. In Georgia, 75 percent of all restaurants are considered small businesses. While some restaurants might be considered a franchise of a major restaurant brand, the owner and operator is still someone who is invested in his or her community.

Restaurant owners and operators have the courage to take risks and create businesses that produce jobs while spreading success to others. A great skill that restaurateurs also possess is that they can easily adapt to a rapidly changing industry. Restaurants are forced to respond quickly to the changing wants and needs of their employees and customers, which is made possible by the hands-on approach of restaurant operators. So as we continue to watch our restaurant industry grow, dine out, dine often, dine Georgia.

Karen Bremer is executive director of the Georgia Restaurant Association.