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Restaurant chief says industry crucial to building workforce

  • Karen Bremer, chief executive officer of the Georgia Restaurant Association, addresses the Savannah Downtown Business Association on Wednesday at SoHo South Cafe. (Eva Fedderly/For the Savannah Morning News)

Savannah’s charm lures more than 13 million visitors each year, and they’ve got to eat somewhere. That’s good news for the state restaurant industry, said the state’s top restaurant official.

“Savannah is a food city to be reckoned with,” said Karen Bremer, chief executive officer of the Georgia Restaurant Association.

“The city really embodies the hospitality that the South is famous for. And the people who work in the industry take care of visitors and residents alike.” Breme spoke Wednesday at a breakfast meeting of the Savannah Downtwon Business Association at SoHo South Cafe.

The restaurant industry is the second largest industry in the state of Georgia, behind agriculture and ahead of the film industry. There are over 17,000 eating and drinking places in Georgia that will bring in a projected $18.9 billion in sales this year.

Bremer said that restaurants are an important part of the economy. The restaurant industry helps Savannah build on its tourism industry, which the city is dependent on. It also provides opportunities for young people, which helps fight crime, she said.

“The restaurant industry does more than provide food for all of us sitting here. It provides a much needed service to young people in our country. One third of Americans has worked in a restaurant. Our industry teaches soft skills to our young people when first entering the workforce,” Bremer said,

The restaurant industry teaches employees to be timely, follow orders, work with others, and imparts customer service skills, she said.

“We’re one of the few industries that teaches all of these skills,” said Bremer. “It’s also an industry that doesn’t require a college degree.”

Marc Friday, general manager of Planters Inn and SDBA member, asked Bremer how she defines millennials and how she sees this large group shaping the restaurant industry. Friday said he was interested both from a hiring standpoint and a patron standpoint.

“Millennials are much more informed consumers,” answered Bremer. “They want to know where the food comes from, what’s in it, they know how and when to dine, and they’re mobile. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner timing don’t really apply. They truly want to understand why they are doing something. They’re loyal and protective when they feel like they’re part of the team.”

Bremer also discussed the political side of her organization and her role as chief lobbyist for the state’s restaurant association.

“My job is to make sure elected officials know the challenges we have. Many of our restaurants are individually owned and operated, and they need to have a voice. In terms of our advocacy role, we monitor all legislation every two-year period. We examine every piece of legislation to see how it will affect restaurants,” Bremer said.

“We are the most labor-intensive industry out there,” she continued. “The function of our organization is to keep people safe and inform people about restaurants and the industry itself.”

Bremer said that the industry creates the most waste and garbage, so sustainability is a big interest of the organization. Also, they believe in the safe service of alcohol. “That license is a privilege,” she said. “Our industry impacts not just people trying to celebrate and enjoying a nice meal out; it’s a profession for many,” Bremer said. “It’s a stop for many to get to their ultimate goal. It provides a livelihood and a service to our country.”   

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