On April 11—12, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA) hosted the 2nd Annual GGRA Industry Conference at the Bently Reserve in downtown San Francisco. This year’s theme, “San Francisco Bay Area: Forging the Future of Dining,” highlighted San Francisco as a longstanding culinary trendsetter as well as the city’s ability to confront the complex issues facing the industry as it relates to rising costs from minimum wage, healthcare, rent, and food.

“The collective enthusiasm shared among our industry peers at the Industry Conference along with national economic forecasts confirm my belief and optimism that our industry will continue to prosper in 2016,” says Gwyneth Borden, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association. “New restaurants are still opening almost weekly to crowds, and I know that with our creative, compassionate industry that we’ll come through all of these challenges more resilient than ever.”

Nearly 400 attendees gathered at the two-day conference to gain insight from the Bay Area’s thought leaders on the best practices related to the challenges and opportunities vexing the industry. The most highly attended sessions included The Tipping Point: A Year Later (a continuation of the tipping conversation from last year’s conference), and the State of the Industry and Public Policy Update, which was a compelling moderated discussion led by Borden with key city leaders. A summary of key takeaways from curated panel discussions and keynote addresses include:

Impact of Global Warming on Your Menu

Marcy Coburn, Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA): “Tourists give us an opportunity to educate the world on what’s seasonal and share information on how we support the local farmers and fisherman, further driving home how our Bay Area chefs help this industry thrive.”

Joe Conte, Water2Table: “It’s common for chefs to have close-knit relationships with their farmers to pull what’s best from the garden and farms, but it is also important for restaurants to start connecting with the fisherman directly. Nearly 95 percent of restaurants receive fish by trucks and airplanes, but it’s important to source locally and support the low impact fisheries as well.”

State of the Industry and Public Policy Update

Gwyneth Borden, GGRA: “Wages are rising not just because of the minimum wage, but because there’s an overall shortage of actual people to employ. You have to pay more to hire and retain people.”

Borden: “In 2015, the fastest growing restaurant categories in San Francisco were Asian, dessert shops, and Mexican. At the same time, cafés, French, and vegan and vegetarian restaurants saw the fastest decline in growth rate in San Francisco, indicating a preference on the part of San Franciscans for a wider array of internationally sourced cuisines.” (according to First Data Corp)

Borden on terms of overall industry health: “Nationally the restaurant industry continues to be one of the strongest job creators in the economy, adding jobs at a 3.2-percent rate in 2015, which was more than a full percentage point above the 2.1-percent gain in total U.S. employment.” (according to the CA Employment Development Department)

Borden on restaurant growth locally: “According to credit card data collected by First Data Corp, in San Francisco restaurant sales grew 6.6-percent in 2015, which was higher than 2014’s sales growth, which was 5.4-percent.”

Borden: “Leisure and hospitality jobs make up 14-percent of San Francisco’s economy & 11-percent of the regional economy” (according to the San Francisco Planning Department’s Commerce & Industry Report)

Borden: “In 2014 alone, eating and drinking establishments made up over 50-percent (50.3) of the sales tax generated in the retail sector with $18.8 billion in retail taxable sales being generated.”

Borden: “Being the restaurant industry in the most costly city in the United States that exemplifies some of the most grotesque examples of the gap between rich and poor is difficult.”

Borden: “Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi represents the most restaurants in California; far ahead of every other member (of Congress).”

Borden: “Here in San Francisco, where our industry accounts for more than 5 percent of the state’s, according to the Board of Equalization there were 4,748 food services and drinking places in SF at the end of the third quarter of 2014.”

Food Safety: Top Risks and How to Protect Your Restaurant

Charlie Kalish, Food Safety Guides: “The top food safety risks include temperature abuse and allergen control, and these risk factors will continue to be prevalent in the next 10 years, according to the FDA.”

Steven A. Kronenberg, Veen Firm on the biggest mistakes in insurance coverage: “A theoretical risk is only theoretical until it happens to you; it’s important to be aware of all of your policy limits.”

Matthew Dolan, Twenty Five Lusk: “Start with management when building out your restaurant’s food safety guidelines; go and visit your suppliers directly to see how your product is being handled; and be willing to spend on a preventative maintenance plan.”

The Tipping Point: A Year Later (Continuing the discussion about tipping practices)

Thad Vogler, Bar Agricole and Trou Normand: “In order to move to the no tipping model, we need a critical mass of the industry to participate—there needs to be a momentum in the industry.”

Carrie White, Coterie Australia: “Similar to San Francisco, Sydney and Melbourne are among the most expensive cities in the world but they are growing at a rapid rate and thriving. [Restaurant] employees are paid $22-28 an hour and the full time employees receive sick leave and maternity leave. The hospitality industry in San Francisco should lead the way and adopt this model, and it starts with operators educating and sharing the psychology behind the idea from the top down in the restaurant.”

Robert Fried (Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo): “The legislature needs to write new provisions to the service charge. Changing from this model will create more leaders, staff retention, and drive a higher quality staff.”

The Industry Conference benefitted the Golden Gate Restaurant Association Scholarship Foundation. The foundation was established to encourage and provide assistance for individuals who wish to further their education in pursuit of careers in the foodservice and hospitality industry. Since 1968, the GGRA Scholarship Foundation has awarded annual tuition assistance to Bay Area students seeking higher education in the culinary and hospitality field. In addition to tuition scholarships, the GGRA Scholarship Foundation also contributes funds every year to the San Francisco Unified School District’s Career Technical Education Department. These funds go directly to pay high school juniors and seniors for summer internships in the industry.

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