Inspiring the Next Generation of Restaurant Leaders


The restaurant and foodservice industry has a need for workers—the industry generates over $800 billion in revenue annually and is expected to add another 1.7 million jobs by 2026—but it is currently experiencing a significant labor shortage. To better attract and keep new workers in the industry, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation surveyed younger members of the workforce to understand their attitudes towards restaurant and foodservice industry careers.


The Challenge

As the second-largest private sector employer and a leading job creator in the United States, the restaurant industry provides multiple career opportunities for millions of Americans. With new restaurants, food concepts, foodservice and dining experiences, and innovative services launched every day, the demand for a well-trained and skilled workforce in a rapidly changing environment is greater than ever.

Despite how common it is for young people to get their first job working at a restaurant, they often leave the industry, typically for at least one of three reasons: they don’t see a pathway for advancement, they don’t make enough money, and/or they finish school. The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation saw an opportunity for the restaurant and foodservice industry to learn more about these generations—what they want in a job, how they judge a potential employer, what they expect once they join the team—to identify factors that influence a young worker’s decision to pursue a long term career in the industry.


The Approach

In 2018, NRAEF and their research partners from the Center for Generational Kinetics surveyed 1,606 Gen Z and Millennial respondents who currently work in, previously worked in, or are looking for jobs in the restaurant and foodservice industry. The findings were compelling:

  • Across all groups, there was remarkable consistency in the desire for a fun work environment, job flexibility, recognition, and feedback about their performance.
  • More than 70 percent of respondents believe that the restaurant industry is a good place to get a first job, and 81 percent of respondents reported that their first job was in a restaurant.
  • When respondents were asked about the future, less than half believed that the industry provides good long-term career options.
  • Over one-third of respondents reported that they aspire to become a business owner and operator, highlighting the need for the industry to better clarify a long-term pathway within the industry for those that endeavor toward leadership roles.

Findings also underscored the impact of and interest in mentorship to guide and accelerate career advancement. Many workers who would consider a job in the industry have never had a mentor, and women, part-time employees, and those not currently employed in the industry are even less likely to have had a mentor. The benefits of mentorship include job-skills development, confidence building, and support to advance quickly and increase salary.

The results suggested that the foundation could better support young professionals’ goals and needs through its training programs, which are grounded in partnerships with training, education, and employment providers, community-based organizations, and government agencies.



The NRAEF aligned their three workforce training programs in response to the survey findings:

  • ProStart, a national career and technical education program, has been part of NRAEF’s work for over 20 years. The industry-informed program combines culinary arts with restaurant management to build practical skills while providing students with a platform to discover new interests and related career opportunities across the industry. Students enrolled in ProStart combine both classroom and hands-on experiential learning and engage with industry professionals. The program receives national funding from the NRAEF, state restaurant and hospitality associations, industry organizations, and foundations. ProStart graduates leave high school qualified for immediate employment as they are skilled in up to 75 restaurant competencies and have completed 400 hours of hands-on work experience.
  • Restaurant Ready, the NRAEF’s ready-to-work program, has been expanded over the past four years in partnership with Community Based Organizations. Restaurant Ready works with community-based organizations to engage young adults and prepare them to start entry level positions with the six basic competencies needed to be ready to work in restaurants and foodservice.
  • The NRAEF also developed the Hospitality Sector Registered Apprenticeship (HRSA) program with the U.S. Department of Labor, which includes line cook and restaurant manager apprenticeship programs for current employees. The HSRA apprenticeship program is an earn-while-you-learn employer-based program, supporting individuals through on the job training and related classroom instruction from entry level positions up through the level of restaurant manager.

The three programs continue to evolve and expand to offer more advanced programs and certifications to support the growing workforce. Metrics related to program engagement, retention, and advancement for all programs are continuously collected and monitored to ensure continuous improvement and relevancy to the needs of young adults and the restaurant and foodservice industry.
Whether they use the restaurant and foodservice industry to launch into the workforce or as a career home, the programs create pathways of stackable credentials and lend to continuous mentorship opportunities to guide young adults.



The restaurant and foodservice is an essential part of the American economy, but it needs to engage and retain young workers to keep growing in the future. Using established connections with the public, state, and local workforce development boards, as well as state apprenticeship agencies and other workforce and economic development entities, the NRAEF is on the front lines of bolstering the industry's workforce development, food safety, and skills training. Through these three programs, the NRAEF engages with over 152,000 individuals, mostly young adults, on an annual basis. In working with partners both within the industry and outside of it, the NRAEF is developing exciting professional pathways for the generations ahead.

“In partnership with the NRAEF, we have worked hard to bridge restaurants that want to hire and youth who want to work, I am excited that [Café] Reconcile is involved in piloting Restaurant Ready.” —Stewart Young, CPO, Café Reconcile

“Most ProStart students are going to go home not winning this competition. And if you think that you’ve lost, then you’re not getting the big picture. You’re here, you’re competing, you’re putting in the effort. One of you doing this is worth 10,000 students talking about wanting to do it.” —Guy Fieri, chef and TV host