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Restaurants serve up success for Missouri

Bob Bonney, MRA CEO

I love seeing families and friends gather at their local restaurant to catch up or celebrate a milestone. And I love seeing new employees experience their first lunch or dinner rush.

It’s this kind of training that make restaurants the place where one-in-three Americans get their first job experience, including me. I worked in restaurants during high school and college and the experience continued to help me long after graduation. So when I say that restaurants open doors to opportunity for people of all experiences, I know that firsthand.

More than 130 million Americans will dine in a restaurant today. The industry is the second largest private sector employer in the nation and Missouri. It’s where 90 percent of managers and 80 percent of owners worked their way up from entry-level positions. That is an extraordinary measure of upward mobility.

In Missouri, restaurants employ 12 percent of the state’s workforce – over 295,600 people. We are an industry where a person can begin with no experience, no formal education, and reach the middle class. When you visit a restaurant, note what you see there. Our people and our foods are a reflection of what makes this nation so great. Over the last five years, when the overall number of restaurants in the nation increased by 12 percent, the number of minority-owned restaurants grew at a rate over four times greater.

The growth in middle-class jobs in the restaurant industry over the last five years has been four times that of the U.S. economy as a whole.

Recently, there have been some headlines questioning the experience of restaurant workers and renewing the minimum wage conversation. Just as we always have, Missouri Restaurant Association welcomes this discussion and is working to be a part of a long-term solution. But the dialogue must include all the facts – not just cherry-picked claims.

First, it is important to understand that only two percent of restaurant employees earn the federal minimum wage. Those who do are predominantly working part-time jobs, and nearly half of those workers are teenagers.

Our goal is to serve everyone who walks through the door – patrons and team members alike. We are an industry that prides itself on valuing anyone who is willing to work hard and learn on the job, regardless of their background.

I know that every one of our nearly 11,000 restaurants and foodservice establishments across the state wants to keep providing Missourians with opportunities for advancement. Most of these are not national chains, but small, independently-owned businesses that will struggle under the financial and regulatory burden of a wage hike. We know this because similar increases across the country are forcing restaurateurs to raise prices, decrease employee hours and worse — make job cuts.

I know times are tough for some Missourians, and there is no doubt that we need to address income inequality in our state. But drastic increases to the minimum wage is not a silver bullet.

As we begin this new year, I am taking some extra time to give thanks for our Missouri restaurant family. We’re grateful to serve up great food for our communities while we serve up opportunity for thousands of Missourians.

Author: MRA
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