What would any local downtown be like without its independent restaurants? In a word, bland. No late-night dinners of chicken tikka masala, no more lunches from that one-of-a-kind sandwich shop and no more weekend brunches at the diner where the waitress knows how you like your eggs. From Main Street, U.S.A. to the city streets of Chicago, independent restaurants give our neighborhoods their charm while fueling our local economies.
March 29, National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day, is meant to celebrate the contributions that independently owned businesses make to this country. For those of us in the food industry, where 90 percent of full-service restaurants are independently owned, it’s particularly important to take a step back and appreciate what these businesses mean to our lives and livelihoods. They are absolutely instrumental to the success of the U.S. economy, the creation of jobs, and the vibrancy of this industry we all love.
By the numbers, independently owned restaurants are a big deal. Ten percent of the entire U.S. workforce is made up of restaurant employees. And out of 28 million small businesses in the U.S., more than one million are restaurants. Additionally, the foodservice industry still offers a reliable path up the economic ladder. Eight out of 10 restaurant owners started their industry careers as entry-level workers—as waiters, dishwashers and line cooks. As hard as it is, people stick to this line of work.
But there are still underlying headwinds facing independent restaurant owners and it’s up to industry professionals to work together to foster growth, success and innovation in the ecosystem. The number of independent restaurants dropped by 2 percent last year. To reverse this trend and ensure the long-term health of these businesses—and by extension, our industry—suppliers need to partner with them and find ways to support their success.
At Grubhub, we celebrate the small businesses we work with because they are our closest partners, they help keep our diners happy and well-fed, and we would be nothing without them. The long-term health of our business, and of the food-tech space in general, depends on building a healthy industry. Independently owned restaurants are instrumental in that equation.
As an industry, we need to do more to help independent restaurants thrive. We can do so by sharing best practices and helping owners adapt to new technology and consumer trends. This will help to ensure that the businesses crafting the massive variety of cuisines that we love stay dynamic and healthy.
Independent restaurant operators bring many positives to the table and the palate. From great food prepared with even greater care, to an intimate knowledge of local preferences and flavors, they are the food innovators that provide the foundation of the American restaurant industry. They deserve all the kudos in the world for doing what they do every day: It’s hard work. So order an expertly crafted salad or grab a slice of pepperoni from the local pizza joint and join us in thanking local owners for everything they do.
Matt Maloney is c.e.o. of Grubhub, an online and mobile food ordering company.