Thursday, February 26, 2015

Louisiana ProStart students compete for nearly $1.2M in scholarships

Louisiana Seafood on board as title sponsor

The Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation (LRAEF) will host its 14th Annual Louisiana Seafood ProStart® Student Invitational, March 3-4, 2015 at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center, Hall J. Nearly $1.2 million in scholarship opportunities will be awarded to students whose teams place in the top three in both the culinary and management competitions. The funds were donated from 10 of the leading post-secondary culinary and hospitality programs in the country, including: Culinary Institute of America, Louisiana Culinary Institute and John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University, among others. The Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board is the invitational’s title sponsor for the third consecutive year.

ProStart students compete in teams of
four and prepare a three-course gourmet
meal featuring Louisiana Seafood in
just one hour. 
“Nearly $1.2 million in scholarship awards available at a ProStart Invitational in a state of our size is impressive,” said LRA President & CEO Stan Harris. “It adds so much stature to our event and to our industry and illustrates that the schools providing these scholarships value the ProStart program.”

ProStart is a nationwide, two-year program for high school students that develops the best and brightest talent into tomorrow’s industry leaders. By bringing industry and the classroom together, ProStart gives students a platform to discover new interests and talents and opens doors for fulfilling careers. Students are required to complete a 400-hour work internship, thus providing hands-on training. Many of LRA members serve as mentors to ProStart students and also hire them.

The invitational showcases the culinary and academic talents of high school junior and senior ProStart students from 21 schools across Louisiana. The invitational features two primary components: the Culinary Competition and the Management Competition.

During the Culinary Competition, Tuesday, March 3 from 10:45 a.m. – 5 p.m., teams will demonstrate their creative abilities through the preparation of a three-course, gourmet meal. All teams’ menus must feature at least one type of Louisiana seafood. Twenty-four judges from the foodservice industry and post-secondary educational institutions will observe and rate their performance during the competition. Judges volunteering their time and expertise include Chef Haley Bittermann of the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group, Chef Brian Landry of Borgne and Chef Kelly Fields of Restaurant August.

Chef Brian Landry of Borgne Restaurant
gives ProStart teams immediate feedback
as a Culinary Competition judge. 
Teams participating in the Management Competition, Wednesday, March 4 from 8:25 a.m. – 2:05 p.m., will demonstrate their knowledge of the restaurant and foodservice industry by developing a restaurant concept, including the menu, design, budget and marketing strategies which they present to a panel of judges as an entrepreneur who pitch to a group of investors. Judges include Dr. Yvette  Green of the Kabacoff School of Hotel, Restaurant & Tourism at UNO, Octavio Mantilla of the John Besh Restaurant Group, Tom Pyburn of Emeril’s Homebase and Keith Rush of the Louisiana Culinary Institute.

The 2015 LRAEF Louisiana Seafood ProStart Student Invitational Sponsors include: Louisiana Seafood, Acme Oyster House, Auto-Chlor Services, Louisiana Hospitality Foundation, Louisiana Restaurant Association, National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, Performance Foodservice Caro, Atmos Energy, Louisiana Culinary Institute, Camellia Brand, Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, Louisiana Gas Association, Whole Foods, Alack Culinary Equipment & Supplies Superstore, Centerplate, Coca-Cola, Community Coffee, Custom Apparel, Ecolab, Freeman Decorating, Generations Hall and the New Orleans Morial Convention Center.

The participating schools in the Culinary Arts Competition are: Abbeville High School, Career Academy, Dutchtown High School, East Iberville High School, East St. John High School, Fontainebleau High School, Grace King High School, Hammond High Magnet School, John Ehret High School, Lakeshore High School, North Vermilion High School, Salmen High School, St. James Parish Career & Technology Center, Sulphur High School, Tara High School, West Feliciana High School, West St. John High School and Woodlawn High School. 

The participating schools in the Management Competition are: Alfred Bonnabel Magnet Academy, Donaldsonville High School, Lakeshore High School, Hammond High Magnet School, North Vermilion High School, Springfield High School, Tara High School, West Feliciana High School and Woodlawn High School.

The winning teams will go on to represent Louisiana at the National ProStart Invitational April 18-20, 2015 in Anaheim, Calif., where they will compete for an additional $1.4 million in scholarship dollars. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Attention LRA Members: Masters Tournament Opportunity

The Masters Tournament at Augusta is recruiting staff for the upcoming event April 1-12, 2015. This is an opportunity for you or a member of your team to gain experience working in a unique, world-class facility.

Staffing needs are: 2—Area Chefs; 2—Restaurant Chefs, 10—Sous Chefs; 3—Lead Cooks; and 2—Pastry Chefs.

Staff members are paid in one lump sum and this year’s rate is being finalized now.  For a basis of reference, last year’s rate was $250/day. Augusta covers Airfare & Airline fees, hotel (shared hotel room with other staff) and stipend for meals.

Interested individuals should contact Dickie Brennan at  by 4 p.m. this Friday, February 27th.   

Monday, February 23, 2015

6 factors consumers consider when choosing a restaurant

For consumers, choosing where to eat is a complex decision. Today’s diners are concerned about the quality of the food they're eating, but they're also looking at factors beyond food, like technology and a restaurant’s environmental impact. 

Here are six things consumers take into account when choosing a restaurant, according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2015 Restaurant Industry Forecast:

Healthier options: More diners are looking for healthful options when they dine out, and restaurants are responding to that demand. More than eight in 10 restaurants say their guests are paying more attention to the nutrition content of their food today than they were two years ago. Diners are also seeing more options from restaurants, and 81 percent of adults say restaurants offer more healthful options than they did two years ago.

Eco-friendly dining:  When they choose a restaurant, many consumers are thinking about the earth as much as their palates. Nearly two-thirds of consumers say they’re likely to consider a restaurant’s eco-friendly practices when they decide where to eat.

Technology: The number of consumers who say technology options like smartphone apps or self-service kiosks are an important factor in choosing restaurants is on the rise, up to about 25 percent from roughly 20 percent a year ago. The increase spans generations, with older and younger customers alike expanding their use.

Quality, innovative food: Nine out of 10 consumers say food quality is an important factor in choosing a restaurant, and six in 10 claim to be more adventurous diners than they were two years ago. More than half are looking for innovative meals that they can’t make at home.

Local foods: Locally sourced meats and seafood and produce were near the top of the list of the NRA’s Top 25 lists of 2015 tableservice and limited-service menu trends. Find out what else is on the list, including trends in breakfast, appetizers, desserts and classic favorites.

Ethnic cuisine: When diners crave ethnic foods, odds are they’re heading for a restaurant. More than two-thirds of consumers say they’re more likely to order ethnic foods at a restaurant rather than trying to cook it at home.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

ATC sees drop in alcohol sales to underage during annual Mardi Gras crackdown

Agents with the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) conducted underage compliance checks at 860 businesses during its two week long Mardi Gras crackdown operation.  This is over triple the number of compliance checks conducted during the same period last year. As a result of the recent checks, 149 citations were issued for alcohol and tobacco sales to underage persons.

Below are statistics by parish on alcohol and/or tobacco products sold to underage persons from March 2nd through March 16th of 2015, compared to 2014:

“Statewide alcohol and tobacco sales to underage dropped from 33% last year to 17% this Mardi Gras season. Obviously, alcohol is a big part of Mardi Gras and it's great news to see that more and more businesses and servers are selling and serving it responsibly," stated ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert. 

Majority of the compliance checks were conducted using 16 and 17 year old undercover operatives. For Mardi Gras, ATC focused the majority of its checks in areas of the state with large parades and festivities.

Remember: The LRA is your solution provider for state-approved, alcohol server training through the ServSafe Alcohol online, two-hour course, available 24-7, anywhere an individual has access to a PC and an internet connection. LRA members receive preferred pricing. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

LRA Cenla Chapter funds $25k scholarship

Inaugural year for LRAEF scholarship to aid student in central Louisiana

The Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation (LRAEF) is pleased to announce that the LRA Cenla Chapter has established the LRA Cenla Chapter Scholarship to provide financial assistance to students in central Louisiana pursuing a career in the culinary and/or hospitality industry.

The chapter pledged $25,000 to the LRAEF, which will award one $5,000 or two $2,500 scholarships annually to eligible students for the next five years. This scholarship will be awarded to qualified applicants from the Cenla Chapter’s 11 parish area- Avoyelles, Beauregard, Catahoula, Concordia, Grant, LaSalle, Natchitoches, Rapides, Sabine, Vernon and Winn parishes.

In addition to the residency requirement, applicants must have a minimum 2.5 GPA and be accepted or enrolled in a qualified two- or four-year degree program, pursuing a career in the culinary/hospitality field.

Available for download at, the application must be completed and postmarked by Friday, April 10, 2015.

“With a growing demand for skilled workforce in the restaurant and hospitality industry across the state, the LRA Cenla Chapter felt it was important to provide an opportunity for young people in our area to pursue such a career,” said LRA Cenla Chapter President Dave Merchant.

“The LRAEF is very appreciative to the Cenla Chapter for this generous scholarship donation,” said LRAEF Executive Director Alice Glenn. “Our industry offers great opportunities for rewarding careers and advancement. Our goal is to support promising future leaders as they prepare for the many lucrative restaurant careers in Louisiana.”

The LRAEF, a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization, exists to enhance the restaurant community through expanded educational and career opportunities, the formation of strategic partnerships and the elevation of professional standards and practices. If you would like to make a donation, please contact Alice Glenn, or (504) 636-6526.

The LRAEF is grateful to the nine LRA chapters and its LRAEF sponsors: 5 Diamond—Acme Oyster House, Auto-Chlor Services, Louisiana Hospitality Foundation, Louisiana Restaurant Association, Louisiana Seafood and the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation; 4 Diamond—Performance Foodservice-Caro; 3 Diamond—Atmos Energy, Camellia Brand, Louisiana Culinary Institute, New Orleans Wine & Food Experience and Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers; 2 Diamond—Louisiana Gas Association and Whole Foods Market.

Friday, February 13, 2015

ATC cites 83 businesses in Mardi Gras sting with 5 days to go

Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) agents have conducted over 600 alcohol and tobacco compliance checks across the state since February 2, 2015. Of those businesses checked, 83 sold alcohol and/or tobacco to underage operatives.

"With the five largest days to go until Mardi Gras, a 13% non-compliance rate is troublesome. Let me be clear to those businesses and servers; alcohol and tobacco permits are a privilege that come with a great deal of responsibility. Those being irresponsible may lose that privilege before Fat Tuesday," stated ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert.

ATC agents and undercover operatives will be working across the state to ensure that illegal sales of alcohol and tobacco do not dampen the Mardi Gras season.

"The majority of undercover operatives used by ATC are 16 and 17 years old. With the legal age to purchase alcohol being 21, there's simply no excuse for these irresponsible sales," added Hebert.

The Louisiana Restaurant Association offers ServSafe Alcohol online server training course at For just $24 for members and $30 for non-members, individuals can spend two-hours completing the course anywhere they have a PC and an internet connection and obtain their state-approved responsible vendor permit. A portion of the course is dedicated to proper techniques for checking identification to determine whether a customer is of legal drinking age. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Judy Achary of Lakeshore High School named 2015 LRAEF ProStart® Educator of the Year

The Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation (LRAEF) has named Judy Achary of Lakeshore High School as its 2015 ProStart® Educator of the Year.

ProStart is a nationwide, two-year program for high school students that develops the best and brightest talent into tomorrow’s industry leaders. From culinary techniques to management skills, ProStart’s industry-driven curriculum provides real-world educational opportunities and builds practical skills and a foundation that will last a lifetime.

Achary, Lakeshore’s ProStart instructor since the school’s opening in 2009, was bestowed the honor during a special, surprise ceremony at the school, February 10, 2015.

2015 LRAEF Chair Lenny Raymond, Principal Dr. Jeanne
Wagner, Judy Achary, LRAEF ProStart Manager
Jennifer Jeansonne &  Executive Director Alice Glenn. 
“ProStart is so important to my students,” said Achary. “I always tell them that I’m teaching them real life skills. They can use what they are learning in class and apply it not only to a future career, but also in their everyday life.”

Under Achary’s direction, Lakeshore High School’s ProStart team won first place in the culinary competition at last year’s Louisiana Seafood ProStart Student Invitational and went on to represent the state proudly at the National ProStart Student Invitational in Minneapolis, Minn. Lakeshore will defend its title at the 2015 competition, March 3-4, at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center. Achary also has the distinction of guiding 100 percent of her students to achieving the ProStart Certificate of Achievement.

“While we have many talented ProStart educators, Judy stood out as a most worthy choice for this year’s award,” said LRAEF Executive Director Alice Glenn. “Judy understands the importance of the curriculum and shares that knowledge with her students in a caring and enjoyable environment.”

Achary will travel to Chicago in May to be honored by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation as a nominee for the national ProStart Educator of Excellence Award.

The LRAEF, a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization, exists to enhance the restaurant community through expanded educational and career opportunities, the formation of strategic partnerships and the elevation of professional standards and practices. If you would like to make a donation, please contact Alice Glenn, or (504) 636-6526.

The LRAEF is grateful to the nine LRA chapters and its LRAEF sponsors: 5 Diamond—Acme Oyster House, Auto-Chlor Services, Louisiana Hospitality Foundation, Louisiana Restaurant Association, Louisiana Seafood and the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation; 4 Diamond—Performance Foodservice-Caro; 3 Diamond—Atmos Energy, Camellia Brand, Louisiana Culinary Institute, New Orleans Wine & Food Experience and Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers; 2 Diamond—Louisiana Gas Association and Whole Foods Market.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Bipartisan bill would bring restaurant taxes down—permanently

The U.S. House and Senate are considering bills that would put in place a 15-year tax depreciation schedule for restaurant improvements and new construction, leasehold improvements and retail improvements. If the legislation passes Congress and is signed by President Obama, it would mean the end of the uncertainty that has led restaurant operators across the country to put improvement projects on hold while they awaited word on the tax treatment of the projects.

Historically, Congress has renewed the 15-year depreciation schedule every year or two, but partisan battles last year delayed renewal until just before the year ended and only applied retroactively for 2014. Without action, improvements and new construction will be subject to a 39.5-year depreciation schedule.

National Restaurant Association (NRA) research shows that a 15-year depreciation schedule is more in line with reality for restaurant operators. A 2014 NRA survey of 1,000 restaurateurs found that a majority of restaurant operators said it was necessary to renovate or remodel their dining areas and kitchens a median of every five years. Only eight percent of restaurant operators said they could wait more than 10 years to renovate or remodel their kitchen area, while just six percent said they could wait more than 10 years to improve their restaurant’s dining area.

The issue has bipartisan support, with bills being introduced in the Senate by Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) and in the House by Reps. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) and Richard Neal (D-Mass.). The latest 15-year depreciation schedule expired at the end of 2014. Both the House and Senate are most likely to vote on permanent extension of the 15-year schedule as part of a larger package of tax provisions.

Economic impact
The economic benefits of a 15-year depreciation schedule are felt well beyond the walls of restaurants. NRA research conducted in 2012 found three in 10 restaurateurs had delayed renovation and construction projects because they weren’t sure how those projects would be taxed. Those projects stood to generate $23 billion in economic activity and create 200,000 jobs across construction and other industries.

Typical renovations eligible for the 15-year depreciation schedule include the building shell, electrical system, fire protection systems, lighting, security systems, ceramic tile, HVAC, plumbing, and restroom fixtures and accessories.    

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

In Memoriam: The Chimes & Varsity Theatre co-owner Tim Hood dies

If you've spent any time on or near the campus of Louisiana State University (LSU), you've no doubt eaten at The Chimes or seen a show at The Varsity Theatre. Under Tim Hood's guidance, along with brother-in-law Michael Ryan, the two establishments became the place to dine on Louisiana fare and watch a game, or see a concert right outside the North Gates of campus, just a half a mile or so from Tiger Stadium. Hood also co-owned Parrain's, The Chimes East and The Chimes Covington. 

"Tim was a pioneer of the casual dining scene here in Baton Rouge," said Peter Sclafani of Ruffino's and LRA Baton Rouge Chapter President. "With The Varsity Theatre, he created a venue that truly elevated local and national musicians for the enjoyment of LSU students and residents of Baton Rouge."

Hood lost his battle with cancer yesterday, February 9, 2015. According to a Varsity Theatre representative, "Tim set the bar incredibly high as he dealt with the cancer and resulting treatments that finally took him from us. His refusal to be overwhelmed by adversity, his unparalleled grace, courage and good humor were examples to us all. We will miss him terribly."

Condolences from employees and customers have been constant since the announcement and tout his kindness, gentlemanly nature, love, generosity, and his deeply-rooted culture and service to the LSU community.

"I'm so sad to hear of Tim's passing. I was the kitchen manager and then the general manager from 1990-1996 and Tim (and Mike) became like family during that time and helped me take the step to open my own place," said former employee Greg Hartley. "My thoughts and prayers are with The Chimes family, one that I will always feel a part of."

"I knew Tim well during the course of my career and he was a visionary and spent a long time in the restaurant industry," said Stan Harris, LRA President and CEO. "He inspired and trained many people, who under his tutelage made a rewarding career in our industry just as he did."

Hood was a longtime member of the Louisiana Restaurant Association. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Technology, lifestyle food choices evolving trends in 2015

Technology is a rapidly evolving trend for 2015. According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2015 Restaurant Industry Forecast, roughly one-quarter of consumers say technology options are important features that factor into their decision to choose a restaurant.

This is up from the nearly one-fifth the prior year that said the same, underscoring that technology quickly is becoming an expectation rather than a novelty when dining out. 

“Consumers – especially younger generations – have come to expect certain connectivity attached to their dining experiences, be it the ability to order restaurant delivery with a smartphone app, access wi-fi in their favorite coffee shop, or review menus and make reservations online,” said Hudson Riehle, the NRA’s senior vice president of research.

“While restaurateurs understand their guests’ desire for technology options and more are adopting various forms thereof, the cost and integration into existing store systems can still pose challenges,” Riehle said.

A gap remains between what consumers want and what restaurants currently offer. That gap is narrowing, though, and it will close further over the next several years as restaurant technology evolves and more options enter the marketplace.

Despite increased consumer use of tech, machines may be an inadequate substitute for the personal service that many consider to be the hallmark of dining out. NRA research clearly shows that consumers still want humans as part of their restaurant experience, yet look to technology to increase service speed and convenience.

Lifestyle choices
Another developing trend for 2015 is related to how today’s consumers tend to make lifestyle choices in a “big picture” kind of way and apply those preferences to a wide range of situations – including dining out. As Americans lead ever-busier lives with little leisure time, they want and expect menu options that allow them to adhere to their chosen life philosophies.

“As restaurants have become part of our daily lives, consumers want to stay consistent in their purchases across broad spending categories,” said Annika Stensson, the NRA’s senior manager of research communications. “Food choices very much fit into that pattern.”

“People who buy electric cars and eco-friendly household cleaners also look for environmental sustainability when picking a restaurant. And consumers who adhere to healthy lifestyles want to find nutritious options no matter where they choose to go without sacrificing convenience,” Stensson said.

NRA research shows that nine in 10 consumers say food quality is an important factor for choosing a restaurant, and six in 10 consider themselves more food adventurous now than two years ago.

Sixty percent of consumers say they are more likely to pick a restaurant that offers menu items that were grown or raised in an organic or environmentally friendly way, up from 55 percent the previous year.

In addition, consumers are showing increasing interest in local sourcing, and more restaurateurs are taking notice. More than eight in 10 tableservice operators say their guests are more interested in locally sourced items this year, compared with seven in 10 who said the same a year earlier. And, 69 percent of consumers say they are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers locally produced food items. That’s up 5 percentage points from what consumers said a year earlier.

Meanwhile, eight in 10 of consumers say restaurants offer a wider variety of healthy menu options now compared to two years ago, and three-quarters say they are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers healthy options; seven in 10 say they also order more healthful options in restaurants than they did two years ago.

For additional information and to buy the 2015 Restaurant Industry Forecast, visit

LRA Education Foundation Announces 2015 Leadership

Board of Directors to guide Foundation’s mission in the new year

The Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation (LRAEF) is pleased to announce its 2015 Board of Directors, which will oversee the mission and goals of the LRAEF.

The LRAEF, a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization, is the philanthropic arm of the Louisiana Restaurant Association and exists to enhance the community through expanded educational and career opportunities, the formation of strategic partnerships and the elevation of the restaurant industry’s professional standards and practices.

The Board of Directors is responsible for overseeing LRAEF programs, including ProStart® and the LRAEF Scholarship Fund. ProStart is a nationwide, two-year, culinary arts and restaurant management program for high school students that develop the best and brightest talent into tomorrow’s industry leaders. Recently, the LRAEF, through its ProStart Support Fund, awarded $50,000 to eligible high schools. The Board of Directors also awards LRAEF scholarships annually to students pursuing a culinary education. Since 2010, the LRAEF Scholarship Fund has awarded more than $200,000 to 64 students. These funds are raised in large part from the nine LRA chapters, through their annual fundraising events and annual sponsorships.

The 2015 LRAEF Board of Directors’ three new members are:
  • Dave Merchant, BJ’s Pizza, Alexandria
  • Paul Rotner, Acme Oyster House, Metairie
  • Rocky Weigand, Coca-Cola, Harahan
They are joining current members:
  • Lenny Raymond, Chair- Ben E. Keith
  • Donna Stephenson, Vice Chair- ATMOS Energy, Monroe
  • Peter Sclafani, Secretary/Treasurer- Ruffino’s Restaurant, Baton Rouge
  • Helen LeBourgeois, Immediate Past Chair- TLC Linen Services, New Orleans
  • Dwight Barnes- Crescent Crown Distributing, New Orleans
  • Octavio Mantilla- Besh Restaurant Group, New Orleans
 And Ex-Officio members:
  • Matt Massey, Industry Representative- Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, Lafayette
  • Tony Abadie, LRA Chair- Hilton New Orleans Riverside
  • Stan Harris, LRA President & CEO
  • Alice Glenn, LRAEF Executive Director
“The LRAEF is excited to begin another great year with our dedicated board members,” said LRAEF Executive Director Alice Glenn. “Our directors volunteer countless hours throughout their tenure to the advancement of the Foundation and we are so very grateful.”

The LRAEF is grateful to the nine LRA chapters and its LRAEF sponsors: 5 Diamond—Acme Oyster House, Auto-Chlor Services, Louisiana Hospitality Foundation, Louisiana Restaurant Association, Louisiana Seafood and the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation; 4 Diamond—Performance Foodservice-Caro; 3 Diamond—Atmos Energy, Camellia Brand, Drago’s Seafood Restaurant, Louisiana Culinary Institute, New Orleans Wine & Food Experience and Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers; 2 Diamond—Louisiana Gas Association, Whole Foods Market and Chef Paul Prudhomme’s “Sea of Hope.”

Friday, February 6, 2015

Where is the sales picture rosiest?

The improving economy and consumers’ desire to dine out more often should generate increased restaurant sales in every state this year, with the strongest gains expected in Arizona, Florida, North Dakota, Texas and Colorado. According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2015 Restaurant Industry Forecast, Arizona and Florida are projected to post 4.9 percent sales increases. North Dakota and Texas follow at 4.8 percent, Colorado at 4.3 percent, and California and Utah at 3.9 percent.

In Florida, where restaurant sales volume is expected to top $36.4 billion this year, Carol Dover, president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, attributes the industry’s positive performance to several factors. They include reduced unemployment, good weather and business-friendly legislation introduced by state lawmakers and endorsed by Gov. Rick Scott (R).

“We are fortunate here in Florida,” Dover says. “Since our governor took office in 2011, unemployment has dropped to 5.6 percent, down from 11.1 percent. Nearly 730,000 new jobs have been created, with the bulk of them coming from tourism. We’re in a really good business mode, and our senate, house and governor are enacting business-friendly legislation, including [several] tax cuts.”

John Horne, owner of Anna Maria Oyster Bar restaurants in Bradenton, Fla., says the mood among business owners and customers is more upbeat than it has been.

“We were one of the states hit hardest during the recession, and we’re also one of the ones recovering quickest. Things seem to be turning around and people are feeling good again. Customers are ordering more and eating better. They’re ordering dessert and having a beverage or two. The mood in the business community is great.”

According to Horne, sales at all three of his locations in 2014 were up 8.6 percent over 2013, and covers increased nearly 2.5 percent. He says this year should be even better.

“The economy is picking up, the weather is in our favor and the [Florida] government is pro-business. These days, it’s all about ROI and getting people to work in Florida.”

In Arizona, restaurant sales volume is expected to hit $11.5 billion in 2015. Restaurateurs cite factors such as hosting the Super Bowl and several pro-golf tournaments, along with increased tourism, as reasons for the uptick in sales.

“Our local economy is excellent, and tourism is stronger than ever,” says Bobby Fitzgerald, owner of White Chocolate Grill, which operates in Scottsdale, Phoenix, Schaumburg, Ill., and Colorado. “Arizona is building a real culinary atmosphere with high-quality operators who are offering cutting-edge food.“

Fitzgerald, chairman of the Arizona Restaurant Association, says 2015 so far has produced positive sales that should continue to grow. “In the beginning weeks of the year, first with the Fiesta Bowl, then the Pro Bowl and now the Super Bowl, sales have been quite good.”

Louis Basile, president and CEO of the Phoenix-based Wildflower Bread Co. fast-casual chain, says the pro-sports events plus the drop in gas prices are the big drivers for sales.

“We started to see a real consumer shift last December, and the first five weeks of this year have been pretty dynamic,” he says. “Beyond that, Arizona has such a driving population, so when gas prices are down to where they are now, the dollars saved go directly to food and entertainment. For someone who spent $60 at the gas pump, but now spends $30, that’s license to spend another $30 on dinner or a movie or both. Consumers seem to be feeling better about the economy and the relief they’re getting from the lower gas prices. I’d say I’m more optimistic we’re going to have a much better year than last year.”

Purchase the 2015 Restaurant Industry Forecast here.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Riehle: Food costs will remain a top challenge in 2015

The restaurant industry is set to post record sales and employ 10 percent of the total U.S. workforce in 1 million locations this year, according to the just-released 2015 Restaurant Industry Forecast. Food costs will remain a top challenge for restaurant operators this year, says Hudson Riehle, the National Restaurant Association's senior vice president of research. Watch him summarize additional key points from the report. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Honing in on Hospitality

By: Wendy Waren, LRA VP of Communications

At the edge of the mighty Mississippi River, at the point where it takes its shape as a crescent, sits the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, the largest hotel in Louisiana, and where Tony Abadie found his place in the world of New Orleans’ most notable industry—hospitality. As this year’s Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) Chair of its Board of Directors, his career ascension began three decades ago when he became an assistant beverage manager there.

Abadie grew up in a restaurant family. His grandfather Jerome “Mena” Maiorana was the general manager at the original Acme Oyster House in New Orleans in the early 1950s through the mid-1960s, before opening his own restaurant—Mena’s Place. It was there Abadie got his start in the restaurant industry as his grandfather’s busser and deliveryman, visiting businesses throughout the French Quarter.

“My grandfather was a special person,” Abadie reminisces. “He never met a stranger and everyone loved him. If someone didn’t have enough to pay for some of his heartwarming New Orleans comfort food, he’d tell them to pay for it next time.”

Mena was so generous that those people “down on their luck” sometimes felt compelled to leave a possession behind to let him know they were good for it. It’s that compassionate and caring nature that shaped a young Abadie into the man he is today. 

“I learned how to be a nice guy from my grandfather, and how to make a Sazerac,” Abadie laughs. “My whole family worked in that restaurant: my grandfather, my mother and her sister, my father and his sister, my brothers…it was the epitome of a typical family restaurant business.”

More restaurant and bar jobs would follow as he paid his way through Louisiana State University while studying mechanical engineering. His first and only internship led him to discover that the career path of engineering wasn’t meant to be.

He returned home in 1982 to New Orleans for the first of many jobs with the Hilton. After moving up through eight management positions, he currently holds the title of Director of Catering and Events, where he oversees a division that produces hundreds of annual events and more than 450,000 meals for hotel event attendees.

“Our job is to make those magical moments come to life for our clients,” shared Abadie. “Everyone has different expectations and listening is the key to delivering what they want.”

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Alicde "Paul" Gobert named LRA Restaurant Legend

The Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) is pleased to name Alicde “Paul” Gobert of the Petroleum Club of Lafayette as a Restaurant Legend. He was recognized at the LRA Acadiana Chapter Restaurant Legends Banquet at the Petroleum Club, January 19, 2015.

The Restaurant Legends Award recognizes the long-term dedication of employees of the restaurant industry, with 20 or more years of service at one establishment.

With 22 years of experience and service at the Petroleum Club, Gobert exemplifies the satisfaction of making his job a lifelong and rewarding career. He is the restaurant’s buffet line attendant.

“For 22 years, Paul has ridden his bike to work, rain or shine” said Petroleum Club General Manager and LRA Director John O’Meara. “That dedication is what makes employees like Paul so special. We like to say at the Petroleum Club that Paul’s demeanor may change by the minute, but he always has the solution to any problem. We are lucky to have Paul on our team.”

Gobert joins more than 130 individuals in our state recognized by the LRA through its Restaurant Legends program. Collectively, these industry professionals have more than 4,000 years of service to Louisiana restaurants and suppliers.

To nominate your Louisiana Restaurant Legend, e-mail Erica Burns here

Monday, February 2, 2015

Positive outlook for 2015 for U.S., Louisiana restaurant industry

The restaurant industry will reach some landmark numbers in 2015 – more than $709 billion in sales, one million locations and 14 million employees - according to the National Restaurant Association's (NRA) 2015 Restaurant Industry Forecast released today.

The good news: sales growth is expected to accelerate and represent the sixth consecutive year of real (inflation-adjusted) sales growth for the industry.

The bad news: growth rates are still modest in historical terms, as the economy continues its struggle to reach normalcy after the Great Recession, begging the question “Is this the new normal?”

It might just be. America’s restaurants are expected to post record sales and continue to be a leading job creator in 2015, but the operating environment will remain challenging due to the slower-than-normal economic recovery after a recession, as well as rising costs.

“Population growth and Americans’ continued desire for convenience and dining out continues to fuel industry growth,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research for the NRA. “Certain components of the business climate remain a challenge, however, as regional variability in employment levels and disposable income gains still put a damper on the overall environment.”

“Total restaurant industry sales are expected to advance at a 3.8 percent rate this year. That’s lower than the compound, pre-recession annual sales growth rate the industry experienced, but still a positive sign that the industry is in a better place now than six years ago,” Riehle said.

Sales in the tableservice segment are expected to reach $220 billion in 2015, a 2.9 percent gain over 2014 sales, while sales in the quickservice/fast casual segment are projected to grow by 4.3 percent and reach $201 billion.

Looking at the state level, the top five states for restaurant sales growth in 2015 are Arizona, Florida, North Dakota, Texas, and Colorado. Louisiana's projected sales revenue for 2015 is up to $7.3 billion, 3.6 percent over 2014 with $7 billion. 

Job gains expected in 2015 and over next decade
As sales growth improves in 2015, restaurant industry employment will perform even better. In fact, this will be the 16th straight year in which restaurant industry employment growth will outpace overall employment growth.

Restaurants will employ 14 million individuals this year as the nation’s second-largest private sector employer, representing one in 10 working Americans. In Louisiana this year, total restaurant industry employment is projected to exceed 203,000 and reach nearly 220,000 by 2025, an additional 16,600 new positions. 

Eating and drinking places – the largest subcategory of the foodservice industry – are projected to add jobs at a 3.2 percent rate in 2015, a full percentage point above the projected 2.2 percent gain in total U.S. employment.

In addition, the NRA projects that restaurant industry employment will reach 15.7 million by 2025, an increase of 1.7 million positions during the 10-year period. Over that decade, the top five states for restaurant employment growth are Arizona, Florida, Texas, Georgia, and Utah. 

Challenges include food costs, increased labor competition
While the restaurant industry is expected to grow this year, operators will continue to face a range of challenges, according to the NRA’s forecast. The top challenges cited by restaurateurs include food costs, building and maintaining sales volume, the economy, and recruiting and retaining employees.

Food costs continue to put pressure on many restaurateurs’ bottom lines.  Average wholesale food prices jumped more than 5 percent in 2014, which represented the fifth consecutive annual increase. During the last five years, average wholesale food prices rose roughly 25 percent.  Operators can expect to get pricing relief on several of the major commodities in 2015, including dairy and pork.

Restaurants are expected to spend $253.6 billion on food-and-drink purchases this year.