Guest view: The economic and social power of restaurants

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By Carrie Leishman

(Leishman is president of the Delaware Restaurant Association)

As a society, we need restaurants. We depend on them to foster community, knit people together and serve up civility at a time when national politics has hit a modern low point—a time when competitors are enemies and opponents are demonized as debates flourish over Twitter and Facebook. Our democracy craves the middle—it seeks out common ground. Restaurants provide that safe haven and take care of each other, their guests and their communities.

Restaurants have always recognized the promise and potential of their communities as well as the people who live there. As an economic engine, they are at the core of re-building and re-branding our lost neighborhoods and forgotten towns. Restaurateurs take chances and are fearless entrepreneurs and first pioneers on many streets often overlooked. Neighborhood by neighborhood and one job at a time, restaurants are a force for social change.

Our future depends on restaurants and those we are providing opportunities forone in 10 Delawareans – almost 50,000 people – choose to work in restaurants.

They work part-time and full-time to feed families and help contribute as dual earners. They are students, mothers and first-generation Americans who are working while going to school or searching for their own personal dream.

More than ever and as our economy grows, restaurants leave no citizen behind—creating valuable entry-level experience for our youth as well as an important ladder for those who aspire toward management careers and entrepreneurial ownership!

Restaurants are serious and generous in hiring and training our most vulnerable citizens when no one else will. In fact, those seeking re-entry as well as those with disabilities are offered jobs in restaurants more often than any other industry.

Within this culture of inclusiveness and opportunity for all comes a responsibility and commitment to educate and train our next generation of hospitality professionals. Now considered the most successful career and technical pathway in our public schools, Delaware ProStart serves 3,000 Delaware youth in 18 high schools as well as at the Ferris school, Baylor Women’s Correctional and James T. Vaughn prisons. The expansion of apprenticeship programs within the restaurant industry will be the next evolution of training—providing paid work-based learning experience, guided mentorship and classroom education from the first day of hire!

Restaurants are far from shy about tackling persistent public policy challenges and often succeed where government programs and charitable endeavors had little impact. They jump in quick to help individuals and communities–their businesses are the vehicle for positive social change.

There are no limits to the value and impact that restaurants have on the citizens of Delaware. Together we are defining what is the new possible for the good of our economy, our diverse employees, and the promise of all our communities.

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