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National Restaurant Association - Teaching next generation of restaurateurs key to industry’s longevity

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Teaching next generation of restaurateurs key to industry’s longevity

During the past decade, the Coca-Cola Company has donated more than $7.5 million to the foundation, including $2 million in scholarships that have benefited nearly 1,000 students and educators around the country. Carlton Curtis, vice president of industry affairs for Coca-Cola FoodService as well as a key fundraiser for and past chair of the National Restaurant Association’s Educational Foundation, recently discussed the importance of the NRAEF’s ProStart program, which trains high-school students for careers in the restaurant industry.

What is the impetus for Coca-Cola’s generous support for the NRAEF and its ProStart program?
The Coca-Cola Company’s support for the ProStart program is, perhaps, the most significant thing we do around the foodservice industry and has been for a number of years. The reason for that is pretty simple: we at Coca Cola don’t have our own agenda about what programs should be supported within the foodservice industry, but we do listen very closely to what our customers tell us. And what do the leaders of the restaurant industry say is important? They tell us ProStart is important. You know, many wonderful things go on in our industry and Coca Cola is supportive of many of them, but ProStart is the one program that consistently is ranked at the highest priority level among our customers. Therefore, it’s a privilege for us to be able to be supportive of it.

Why do you think operators value the ProStart program?
Because of its reach and scope; ProStart reaches across all segments of the industry -- from QSR to fine dining -- and it reaches virtually every geography in the United States, certainly almost every state at this point and soon every state. There is no other program that has the appeal that ProStart does, based on those characteristics. Also, it is a proven success story, a program that has enough history where you can make very specific judgments about it based on the facts. And the facts are that this is a program that not only impacts the attitudes of young people and their families about the restaurant industry in a favorable way, but also provides wonderful youth development attributes in a number of areas relative to team building, discipline and understanding the value of work. That’s why operators in this industry rank it so highly.

Why should students seek out participation in ProStart?
All of us were this age at one time and some of us, when we were 14, 15, 16 or 17, were very focused on our futures. We knew for any number of reasons what we wanted to do as young adults and, maybe, for our entire careers. But as we know, young people can sometimes be a little rudderless regarding their futures during this time. ProStart has been a very valuable program for so many young people. It’s given them a sense of purpose about their professional lives as well as a window into the world of work in a way nothing else we do can. Many of them have used ProStart over the years to find their calling. In fact, a high percentage of them go on to continue working in the foodservice industry and still do to this day. Others have used the skills and values they’ve learned in the program to propel them into other successful areas after their high school years, whether directly into the world of work or post-secondary education. That’s why I suggest that every young person at least look at the ProStart program available to them to accomplish some of those same things.

What do you hope the program ultimately achieves?
As we all know, and we talked about it often, the restaurant industry is right behind the health care industry as the largest private employment industry in the country. It is a vital part of the U.S. economy and it’s going to continue to grow in the years ahead. We’ve seen all the projections on the number of additional employees this industry will need over the next 10 or 15 years and it is important we have as many effective initiatives as possible to attract young people to the industry, to have them give it a fair look for the opportunities it offers. We obviously believe those opportunities are extraordinary; young people can start even at the lowest rung of a restaurant and rise as high as their talent and effort will take them. That is really the long-term vision for ProStart ‑ to have it be as significant and impactful with as much reach as the restaurant industry itself. If we don’t do that, we are cannot create an environment for the industry to attract the next generation of chefs, managers and entrepreneurs we know we will need in the future.

What should ProStart students know to be prepared for the future?
ProStart provides a wonderful opportunity for people of this age group to learn how success really happens. It occurs through preparation, hard work, a good attitude, building their skills, building relationships and learning how to be a team player. Young people who come into the program may not appreciate that that’s what they’re going to learn, but the fact is they will get a birds-eye view about the world of work and what being a professional is really about.

Pictured, top right: Carlton Curtis

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