Nine out of 10 restaurant employees say they are proud to work in the restaurant industry, while three-quarters believe the industry offers them a strong career path and upward mobility, according to a new workforce study released today by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF).
As the most extensive research of the restaurant sector workforce in decades, “Who Works in the U.S. Restaurant Industry” details the opinions of nearly 5,100 Americans who currently work or formerly worked in the industry, as well as those who own or operate restaurants.
“This landmark research finds that employees and owners/operators have a decidedly positive perception of our industry and believe extensive career choices and opportunities for advancement are readily available,” says Dawn Sweeney, president and chief executive officer, National Restaurant Association and National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. “This study offers fresh and compelling insight into why so many Americans choose to chart their careers in the restaurant industry, how they advance and why so many plan to stay until they retire.”
Gateway to Employment and Advancement
The restaurant industry has historically served as the first job for Americans, with nearly one in three getting their first work experience in a restaurant.
More than nine out of 10 restaurant employees said the restaurant sector is a good place to get a first job, and more than eight out of 10 current workers agreed that restaurants provide an opportunity for people who want to succeed based on their hard work.
Eight out of 10 employees and nine out of 10 owners say that people of all backgrounds can open their own restaurant.
Career Opportunities and Tenure Abound
A majority of employees said the industry provides good long-term career opportunities. Also, individuals in almost every occupation and age group surveyed felt the restaurant industry affords them career advancement potential. Of those not in their first restaurant job, a solid majority said they have advanced to higher-paying jobs.
Seven out of 10 restaurant employees said they would likely continue working in the industry until they retire. In fact, the median industry tenure of employees in restaurant manager and business operations positions was 20 years, and for those over 55, the median was more than 30 years.
“As the nation’s second largest private-sector employer and a leading job creator, the restaurant industry must attract, develop, and retain employees to fuel projected growth within the sector," says Rob Gifford, executive vice president, strategic operations and philanthropy, National Restaurant Association and National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. "We are highly encouraged by the findings of this study and hope it will propel more people to consider and choose fulfilling restaurant careers."
The study also examined compensation for both hourly and salaried restaurant employees. While wage ranges varied by occupation, restaurant managers earned a reported median annual base salary of $47,000. Salaried chefs and cooks received a median base of $50,000, with the upper quartile at $65,000 and the lower quartile at $40,000. Among salaried employees, a majority across all age groups said they received a raise in the last year.
When analyzing the findings of particular hourly workers such as waiters and waitresses, the study indicates they earned a median of $16.13 per hour when employer-paid wages and tips were combined, while bartenders earned a median of $19.35 per hour. Among all hourly employees, roughly seven out of 10 restaurant managers and shift or crew supervisors said they received a pay raise within the past 12 months. A majority of chefs or cooks, as well as individuals in business operations positions, also received a raise within the last year.
The research also profiles perceptions of current restaurant owners related to their career experiences within the industry. A vast majority—77 percent—say they started in the industry at an entry-level position. During their tenure with the industry, these owners held a variety of restaurant jobs with 84 percent being managers, 61 percent shift or crew supervisors, and 59 percent chefs or cooks.
And in an indication of the entrepreneurial spirit within the industry, when asked how they became a restaurant owner, 42 percent said they started their restaurant from “scratch,” while 20 percent said they purchased the business and 13 percent became a franchisee.
Despite how they began as operators, the vast majority of all restaurant owners said they likely will continue working in their industry until they retire. In fact, 84 percent of the youngest owners, those under 35, said they see the restaurant sector as a life-long career pursuit.
“Who Works in the U.S. Restaurant Industry” was commissioned by the NRAEF and executed during October and November 2013. The study was implemented through an online survey fielded among a wide range of individuals in the restaurant industry workforce and mall intercepts in 20 shopping malls across the U.S.
In total, completed surveys were received from 4,465 individuals who currently work in the restaurant industry. These respondents comprised 3,309 individuals currently in restaurant and foodservice positions, 442 individuals in business operation positions for restaurants, and 714 restaurant owner/operators.
The survey also contained a section for individuals who currently do not work in the restaurant industry. Out of the 861 individuals who completed this section, 628 are former restaurant employees and 233 never worked in the restaurant industry. Out of the 628 former restaurant employees, 393 said their first paid job was in the restaurant industry.