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National Restaurant Association - Our History

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About Us

Our History

A Taste of Our History

1917: When egg brokers try to demand a price of 65 cents a dozen, the year-old Kansas City Restaurant Association, one of the restaurant industry's earliest professional associations, organizes an egg boycott. Egg prices plummet to 32 cents. The seeds of a national movement are sown.

1919: Kansas City restaurateurs launch a national organization, holding the first meeting of what is today's National Restaurant Association on March 13 in Kansas City. The fledgling organization represents an industry of 43,000 restaurants.

1920: Prohibition begins in 1920, kicking off a 13-year ban on alcohol sales. Restaurants that are used to serving free sandwiches with five-cent beers need to develop new marketing tactics — and they do. Despite Prohibition, the industry thrives, riding a wave of national prosperity. Howard Johnson's opens its first franchises, White Castle's five-cent burgers grow popular, and Willard Marriott opens his first Hot Shoppes.

1927: The growing National Restaurant Association moves its headquarters from Kansas City to Chicago.

1930s: Prohibition ends, but the Depression is in full swing. Congress's National Recovery Act requires each industry to prepare a "Code of Fair Competition" in 1933. The National Restaurant Association quickly complies. Membership doubles.

1930s: In an appeal to customers in bleak times, the National Restaurant Association tries out two advertising slogan: "Enjoy Life — Eat Out More Often" and "Take Her Out to Dinner at Least Once a Week."

1940s: World War II gas rations and travel restrictions result in the cancellation of national restaurant conventions from 1942 to 1945. In their place, the National Restaurant Association institutes a program of wartime conferences dealing with such concerns as food, equipment and labor shortages.

1940s: Post-WWII restaurant sales hit a new high. The number of meals served triples from a prewar level of 20 million meals a day to a postwar level of more than 60 million meals a day. The National Restaurant Association launches an Educational Department to help busy restaurateurs do their jobs better. The Association also produces its first film "America's Heritage of Hospitality" to promote the industry and recruit new employees.

1950s: The National Restaurant Association endorses the use of credit cards, and supports a new type of dinner — the "take home" meal — that families could enjoy at home in front of their new black and white television sets. McDonald's launches its "Speedee System," and fast food is born. To whet customers' appetites for eating out, the National Restaurant Association commissions two songs: "Pass the Meat, Pass the Potatoes" (1951) and "Let's Go Out to a Restaurant" (1953).

1960s: The Association celebrates its 50th anniversary in 1969 at the National Restaurant Association Convention and Exposition with the theme "Golden Opportunities." The industry evolves. In an age of national experimentation, more restaurateurs forgo traditional French cooking techniques. New ethnic flavors and locally grown produce make their way on to menus.

1970s: The energy crisis, inflation, beef shortages and more government mean growing pains for the restaurant industry. In 1979, the National Restaurant Association relocates its headquarters from Chicago to Washington, D.C., to better communicate the industry's messages to lawmakers.

1981: National Restaurant Association launches Restaurants USA magazine and the Washington Report newsletter to keep members abreast of industry news.

1987: In response to the industry's growing professionalism, the Association creates what is now known as the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation to produce educational programs and materials on everything from food safety to responsible beverage-alcohol service.

1980s: The National Restaurant Association becomes more politically active. Tip-reporting rules, tip taxes, business meal deductibility, employment law, minimum wage and other public-policy issues take center stage for the restaurant industry.

1999: The U.S. Department of Commerce declares 1999 the "Year of the Restaurant" in recognition of the industry's significant contribution to the U.S. economy.

1999: The National Restaurant Association certifies its one millionth restaurant-industry professional in its ServSafe food-safety training program.

2001: In the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on America, more than 8,000 restaurant operators participate in the National Restaurant Association’s first Dine for America, raising more than $20 million.

2005: Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the National Restaurant Association mobilizes more than 17,000 restaurants to participate in Dine for America, raising over $10 million for the American Red Cross.

2011: The National Restaurant Association launches Kids LiveWell, a new initiative to  showcase the restaurant industry’s commitment to offer healthful options for children. We also launch our new ServSafe Foodhandler product in response to California's food-handler rules, training and testing nearly 700,000 food handlers.

2012: The National Restaurant Association relocates its headquarters in Washington, DC. We certify our 5 millionth restaurant-industry professional in our ServSafe food-safety training program.

Here we are today ...

As the National Restaurant Association moves toward our 100th anniversary in 2019, the nation's restaurant industry today employs 14.7 million employees, about one in 10 working Americans.

Restaurants are the nation's second-largest private-sector employer. The industry's sales in 2017 are expected to hit $799 billion, about 4 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product.

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