Chef Patron E.J. Lagasse Keynote Speaker at ProStart Awards
The Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation proudly presents the Louisiana Seafood ProStart Invitational March 6-7, 2024, at the Morial Convention Center, Hall J.
ProStart is a two-year culinary arts and restaurant management curriculum offered to juniors and seniors in nearly 60 high schools in Louisiana. It is administered by the LRA Education Foundation and is a National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation curriculum offered in all 50 states and Guam.
BRG Hospitality’s Culinary Competition will commence March 6 where 26 teams will showcase their talents while creating a three-course gourmet meal in just 60 minutes, using just two butane burners. The teams are judged on food safety and sanitation measures, communications, teamwork, techniques, time management, and of course, presentation and taste.
The Raising Cane’s Management Competition will be held March 7, and 12 teams will present their restaurant concepts before a group of judges. The teams are judged on concepts, marketing, operations, and asked a serious of critical thinking questions to determine their understanding of restaurant management.
The top five teams in each category will win a total of $850,000 in scholarships to notable national and Louisiana culinary and management programs college programs.
“The number of scholarships offered to Louisiana ProStart competitors speaks volumes to our students' passion for learning about culinary arts and the operations of restaurants,” said Jonathan Baynham, LRAEF Executive Director. “We are fortunate to have the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board as our title sponsor as Louisiana seafood is a key ingredient for many of our student led teams.”
During the ProStart Awards, Chef Patron of Emeril’s flagship restaurant in New Orleans, E.J. Lagasse, will serve as the keynote speaker. Lagasse, the son of world-famous Chef Emeril Lagasse, will share his journey from the Meril kitchen at age 13 to stages in New York, and his travels abroad.
The winning team in each category will win an all-expense paid trip to compete in the National ProStart Invitational, April 26-28 in Baltimore, Maryland.
In comments they call the proposal unwarranted and unlawful, and highlight significant unintended consequences for consumers
In comments submitted to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regarding its Unfair or Deceptive Fees Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the National Restaurant Association and the Restaurant Law Center (Law Center) called for the Commission to exclude the restaurant industry from the final rule. In the comments, the groups highlight that the proposed rule’s blanket prohibition on “hidden” and “misleading” fees as applied to the restaurant industry is “unwarranted, unlawful, and would create significant unintended consequences for consumers.”
The FTC proposal seeks to eliminate all fees or surcharges, forcing restaurant operators to change menus to reflect a single “Total Price” for each item. The Commission puts the cost for doing this at more than $3.5 billion dollars for the restaurant industry alone, forecasting a restaurant’s menu redesign will cost almost $5,000.
“While the National Restaurant Association and the Restaurant Law Center appreciate the Commission’s aim to provide increased price transparency for consumers, this proposed rule ultimately fails to achieve this objective in the restaurant industry,” said Brennan Duckett, director of technology and innovation policy for the National Restaurant Association. “A one-size-fits-all prohibition on common restaurant charges is both unworkable and unlawful, and we therefore have urged the Commission to exclude the industry from any final rule of similar nature and scope.”
The comments highlight that while restaurant operators already make significant efforts to ensure that fees and surcharges are evident and identifiable before consumers receive the check, they also typically provide customers with the option to remove a surcharge from their final bill. These practices differentiate the restaurant industry from the others outlined in the proposed rule and appear to address the Commission’s concerns around the refundability of such fees.
The Association and Law Center argue that by forcing restaurant operators to include service fees, credit card surcharges, or even delivery fees in menu pricing, the Commission is in fact forcing operators to hide from consumers the costs of the services they value in the restaurant experience. Additionally, if the FTC succeeds in forcing restaurants to reflect all-in pricing across a menu, it will create an unfair payment structure where diners are paying for service — like delivery — that they aren’t receiving.
“The FTC’s proposed ‘junk fees’ rule will unleash nothing but chaos and confusion for restaurant owners and diners alike,” said Sean Kennedy, executive vice president for Public Affairs at the National Restaurant Association. “Restaurant customers understand that they will pay extra if they are having food delivered or are dining with a large party. Fees for these services aren’t ‘junk fees’ – they reflect the higher costs that a restaurant is taking on to make a customer’s experience even more convenient.”
The comments also highlight the outcome of being forced to create a menu for each situation, as the FTC suggests: “Imagine walking into a restaurant and the person at the desk asks you how you’re going to be paying that evening. This would become an uncomfortable reality in a world where restaurants can’t use surcharges and are forced to provide a menu for large parties, one for smaller parties, one for people paying with credit cards, one for takeout, and one for delivery.”
As an alternative to the proposed rule, the Association and Law Center expressed a willingness to work with the FTC to establish a transparency test for potential fees or surcharges. This test would set notice and disclosure requirements for the fees and surcharges necessary to maintain business viability for restaurant operators.
However, the groups warns that if a final rule is issued which includes restaurants, fees that are value-adding and transparent must be preserved. According to the groups this includes service fees that go directly to tipped workers, credit card surcharges, and delivery fees.
Read the full National Restaurant Association and Restaurant Law Center joint comments here.
Mardi Gras Ushers in Upgrades to Meal Service for 8th District
The largest free show on earth, as we know, is not without its costs.
With nearly 1 million visitors pouring in for the 2024 Mardi Gras Season, the public safety measures are vast, largely unknown or underestimated.
The agencies that are on the ground and in the air extend far beyond our local NOPD. They include ATC, Orleans and Jefferson Parish Sheriff, Fire Marshal, Homeland Security, DEA, ATF, Special Forces, Coast Guard, FBI, and others. And we expect a contingent of 130 Louisiana State Police to bolster the law enforcement headcount.
The LRA partnered with New Orleans & Company to provide a commercial refrigerator, hot box for keeping food safe, and countertop chafing dishes. The LRA team has helped coordinate hotels and restaurants to provide three meals a day – breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the 8th District on Royal Street.
Providing the equipment allows for ease in feeding those working diligently to protect us, particularly in and around the French Quarter.
This effort was initiated to support large events like Mardi Gras but also French Quarter Fest, Jazz Fest, Essence, the Sugar Bowl, and other events that impact our tourist corridors throughout the year.
Thank you to: Luke Restaurant, Red Fish Grill, Brennan’s on Royal, MMI Culinary, JW Marriott, Windsor Court, Hilton Riverside, Hotel Monteleone, Hyatt Centric, New Orleans Marriott, Sheraton New Orleans, Hyatt Regency, Sysco and Coca-Cola United.
NOPD Community Liaison Bronson Gettridge reported, “This weekend [Feb. 2-4] was a success. We had over 200 officers visit our station in three days for hot meals. The warmer and fridge were a big help, and we can’t say thank you enough.”
Through our partnership with Councilmember Freddie King, we have worked to provide meals in appreciation of the New Orleans Police Department in Council District C for the past two years.
If you are interested in supporting our law enforcement in the future, please contact Wendy Waren at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Bruce Grindy, Chief Economist, National Restaurant Association
In the 12 months ending November 2023, average wholesale food prices declined 5.6%. That marked the seventh consecutive 12-month decline – and the largest year-over-year drop in more than 7 years.
The recent slowing of growth followed an 18-month period of double-digit gains – including a peak increase of 17.7% in April 2022.
While the decades-high growth rates are in the past, average food prices are still well above pre-pandemic levels. As of November 2023, the Producer Price Index for All Foods remained more than 25% above its February 2020 reading.
Although prices for many food commodities leveled off or declined in recent months, others continued to trend higher. As a result, the degree to which restaurants are experiencing relief depends on the menu mix of each individual operation.
Producer prices for beef and veal (25.6%), confectionary materials (16.2%), tea (13.3%), refined sugar (10.2%), coffee (6.4%) and soft drinks (4.5%) stood well above their November 2022 levels. In contrast, the fresh vegetables index fell 57.6% during the last 12 months, while the fresh fruits and melons index was down 6.1%.
Until wholesale prices start trending lower across a broad range of commodities, food costs will continue to be a headwind for many restaurants.
With a renewed spirit, the LRA held its annual chapter leadership conference in Baton Rouge on January 24. The topics covered everything LRA-related, from advocacy to the education foundation, as well as events and goals. LRA Chair Alan Guilbeau and Director Stephen Hightower (Chapter Leadership Chair) led a dialogue that sparked creativity in how our chapter leaders and members can help recruit new LRA members.
“Just as your restaurants and businesses are recovering from the pandemic, so is the LRA,” said Guilbeau.
“With so many new restaurants and ownership changes, the timing is perfect to align our efforts to jumpstart membership.”
LRA EVP of Membership Pam St. Pierre shared the 2023 through 2025 strategic plan with the group. It included an overview of the mission and vision and how we fulfill them through advocacy, communications, resources, education, training, and leading through best practices, structure, and strategy.
LRA SVP of Communications Wendy Waren shared the lay of the land when it comes to LRA advocacy on behalf of the industry. In addition to explaining the LRA’s work at the federal, state, and local levels, she briefed the group on current legislative items that impact the industry, the Louisiana governor’s transition and inauguration, and new appointments.
“Advocacy is the number one reason the LRA exists,” said Waren. “We actively monitor so many facets of industry issues, all so you don’t have to. But know that when we call you to action, it’s important.”
The LRA chapters also raise funds for the LRA Hospitality PAC each year. In 2023, they collectively brought in $107,500, and in 2024, they increased their goal to $114,500.
This year, LRA Chapter Coordinators Britney Ford and Alex Shafer will be navigating a landscape of the ebbs and flows of chapter member engagement, as Hightower dutifully guides the path forward.
“We’ve learned that members have more time constraints than ever before,” said Hightower. “As leaders, it’s important for us to offer various ways for members to gather for the benefit of networking and sharing best practices.”
To connect LRA members with young people interested in restaurants and hospitality, Waren highlighted the LRA Education Foundation’s signature programs: ProStart and the Scholars Program. Collectively, the LRA chapters contributed $119,000 in 2023 and set the goal of $128,500 in 2024.
As the conference ended, the group focused on three key goals for 2024:
1. Attract new restaurant members.
2. Advance peers into volunteer leadership positions.
3. Improve outreach to build stronger connections with members.
Interested in serving on your local chapter board of
directors or volunteering for an upcoming event?
Chapters: Acadiana, Cenla, Baton Rouge and Southwest Contact: Britney Ford
(225) 240-7189 | email@example.com
Chapters: Bayou, Greater New Orleans and Northshore Contact: Alex Shafer
(504) 636-6527 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Drago’s: An American Journey recounts the inspiring saga of the Cvitanovich family, pioneers of Drago’s Seafood Restaurant in Metairie, Louisiana. From humble beginnings to culinary legends, Drago and Klara Cvitanovich embody the immigrant experience and entrepreneurial spirit, fleeing post-World War II Europe with little but determination. Through unwavering dedication, they introduced their iconic dish, charbroiled oysters, to the world, captivating taste buds far and wide.
Peter Finney Jr. paints a vivid portrait of the Cvitanovich family’s odyssey, from Croatia’s marshlands to New Orleans’ bustling streets. Through captivating storytelling and firsthand accounts, Finney captures the essence of Drago and Klara’s relentless pursuit of success and their profound impact on their community.
Inducted into the LRA Hall of Fame, Drago and Klara, and later their son Tommy Cvitanovich who was honored as the LRA Restaurateur of the Year, epitomize excellence and innovation in the restaurant industry. Drago’s: An American Journey transcends a mere restaurant biography, celebrating family, heritage, and the power of food to unite communities.
The Cvitanovich family’s post-Katrina emergency food distribution efforts, rooted in their firsthand experience of hunger during WWII, exemplify their commitment to serving others and fostering resilient bonds within their community.
Beyond Drago’s tantalizing dishes lies a richly woven tapestry of stories of perseverance and generosity that inspire aspiring restaurateurs with the quintessential American narrative of turning dreams into reality through hard work, determination, and faith in family.
Drago’s: An American Journey is a testament to the Cvitanovich family’s enduring legacy and their indelible mark on Louisiana’s culinary landscape, embodying the resilience and tenacity that define the American spirit.
The book is available on Amazon.com; Barnes and Nobles and at the Drago’s Restaurant locations in New Orleans (Hilton Riverside), Metairie, Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Shreveport and Jackson, Mississippi.
In every industry, there are unsung heroes whose dedication and commitment shape the landscape from behind the scenes. Alan Guilbeau, 2024’s newly appointed Chair of the Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA), is one such individual whose remarkable journey in consumer products, food service, and distribution has left an indelible mark on Louisiana’s culinary community.
Born and raised in Kenner, Guilbeau’s upbringing was steeped in the values of hard work and perseverance. His father’s career with Jack’s Cookies and Budweiser instilled in him a deep appreciation for the intricacies of business, while his mother’s clerical work inspired a sense of organization and diligence that would serve him well in his future endeavors.
After graduating from Bonnabel High School, Guilbeau joined his father at Budweiser, where he began his career in earnest. Over the years he held various roles within the company, going from keg route driver to package salesman to route supervisor, and eventually rising to the position of pre-sale division manager. It was during this time that Guilbeau honed his skills in sales, distribution, and team leadership, laying the foundation for his future success.
“My career focus went from bringing life to the festivities for hospitality businesses, to rejuvenating night owls for their morning meetings,” joked Guilbeau.
From the Party to Perky
In 2009, Guilbeau embarked on a new chapter in his career, joining New Orleans Roast Coffee & Tea and PJ’s Coffee of New Orleans under Ballard Brands as Vice President of Business Development. Here, he played a pivotal role in expanding the brands’ reach beyond coffee shops and into restaurants, hotels, and convenience stores. Guilbeau’s strategic acumen and unwavering dedication were instrumental in driving the growth and success of these beloved Louisiana brands.
Roastmaster Felton Jones has worked with Guilbeau for 25 years and commends him on his role as LRA Chair this year. Jones noted that, “This position will give more people in our industry the chance to know Alan and see what he brings to the table.”
“He taught me everything I know about sales and I taught him everything I know about manufacturing, and through that experience we built New Orleans Roast together,” said Jones. “Alan sees the potential in people that they don’t yet see in themselves.”
All in From the Beginning
Outside of his professional roles, Guilbeau has been deeply involved with the LRA, serving as the Northshore Chapter President and Chair of the LRA Education Foundation. His passion for programs like ProStart, inspired by his son’s participation at Covington High School, underscores his commitment to nurturing the next generation of culinary talent.
In addition to his professional achievements, Guilbeau’s personal life has also been intertwined with the culinary world. His daughter’s career as an administrative law judge for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and his recent marriage to his wife Kelly, who is VP of Marketing at the Salad Station and volunteers with the LRA Education Foundation, further illustrate his family’s deep connection to the industry.
As Guilbeau assumes his role as Chair of the LRA, he brings with him a wealth of experience and a genuine desire to serve the community. He emphasizes the importance of membership recruitment, the support of the LRA Workers’ Comp program, and access to essential training resources like ServSafe for food safety and alcohol training.
In the face of challenges such as the post-pandemic recovery, Guilbeau’s quiet determination and unwavering commitment to service will undoubtedly continue to shape the future of Louisiana’s vibrant restaurant industry. As we celebrate his journey of passion and service, let us be inspired to follow in his footsteps and make a difference in our own communities.
Restaurant optimism fueled by continued employment growth, technology advancements and expanded consumer use of restaurant apps, off-premises and loyalty programs.
EMBARGO: February 6, 2024,
Washington, D.C. (February 6, 2024) – Restaurants sales are forecast to exceed $1.1 trillion in sales this year, marking a new milestone for the industry that will employ over 15.7 million people in the United States by the end of 2024. This is all according to the National Restaurant Association 2024 State of the Restaurant Industry Report.
Key findings from this year’s report include:
• Positive sales expected: Restaurant operators are cautiously optimistic about the year ahead, with nearly 8 in 10 predicting their sales will increase (33 percent) or hold steady (45 percent) from 2023 levels.
• Delivery, carry-out and drive-thru growth continues: 52 percent of consumers—including 67 percent of millennials and 63 percent of Gen Z adults—say ordering takeout from a restaurant is an essential part of their lifestyle, further showing the profound impact restaurants have on consumers’ lives.
• Industry employment increased but help still wanted: Forty-five percent of restaurant operators report needing more employees to meet customer demand and a majority (70 percent) have job openings that are hard to fill.
• Profitability remains challenged: Operators are slightly less optimistic about profitability, with only 27 percent of operators expecting to be more profitable this year. Average food costs have increased more than 20 percent and average wages more than 30 percent from 2019—both impacting profitability.
• Jobs drive consumer spending: All restaurant sales are local, and consumers are generally upbeat about their community. Fifty-five percent of adults describe their local economy, including the availability of jobs, as excellent or good.
"With more than $1 trillion in sales expected this year, the state of the restaurant industry is strong thanks to the agility of its operators and employees,” said Michelle Korsmo, President & CEO of the National Restaurant Association. “As our report shows, restaurants are finding ways to adapt to the challenges of increased food costs and supply chain disruption. Restaurants have responded well to customers’ desire to have more opportunities to enjoy restaurant meals, which continues to grow sales, create employment opportunities, and foster a strong sense of community.”
Operators and Consumers Alike See Value in Technology and Special Deals and Promotions
Consumers’ affinity for technology in restaurants varies and as a result, operators are strategically deciding how to incorporate technology into the experience. For full service restaurants, nearly half (46 percent) of adults think technology has a positive impact, and this number weighs heavily towards younger consumers (64 percent of Gen Z and 66 percent of Millennials). Similarly, this group is more likely to want more technology options according to the research.
These preferences can help operators make informed decisions on where and how to invest. In 2023, just under half (48 percent) of operators made technology investments to enhance the customer experience but 60 percent plan to make an investment in 2024. The areas where consumers say technology would have the most positive impact on their personal experience include options that make ordering and paying easier and faster.
If consumers are somewhat split on technology, they can agree on the value of a special deal or discount, with 7 in 10 adults saying they often look for a daily special or discount. Customers (85 percent) are more flexible about when they dine if it comes with a deal and 84 percent said they’d take advantage of deals offered for dining at off-peak times. Further, 75 percent of adults would opt for smaller-sized portions for a lower price—a trend that can help restaurants curb food waste and improve profits.
To further fuel customer retention, the data suggests focusing on loyalty and rewards programs. Customers prefer to see this type of program on a smartphone app, further enforcing the need for technological innovation and creating additional touchpoints between customers and restaurants.
Restaurant Employment to Reach 15.7 Million in 2024
The restaurant and foodservice industry is projected to add 200,000 jobs in 2024, bringing total industry employment to 15.7 million. Between 2024 and 2032, the industry is projected to add 150,000 jobs per year on average, with total staffing levels reaching 16.9 million by 2032.
Despite this expansion, 45 percent of operators say their restaurant doesn’t have enough employees to support existing customer demand. Operators looking for the necessary support are turning to the gig economy and technology. One in four operators say using gig workers to fill in staffing will become more common in their segment in 2024 and nearly half (47 percent) of operators say the use of technology and automation to help with the current labor shortage will become more common.
Food Cost and Availability Influence Menus the Most
If consumers notice menu changes on a more frequent basis, it’s often the result of increased food costs. In the past year, operators report needing to find new suppliers, removing items from their menus, adjusting portion sizes or substituting lower cost items all in response to elevated food prices. The availability of food items impacted menu composition as well, with more than three quarters (77 percent) of operators saying their restaurant experienced supply delays or shortages of key food or beverage items in 2023. These changes will present a challenge for operators, especially with most adults (86 percent) saying they like ample choices on menus.
Further directing menu choices are social media trends. As the National Restaurant Association’s 2024 What’s Hot Culinary Forecast shows, savvy operators are turning to TikTok and other social media platforms to be inspired and to fire up viral trends. Operators will need to be strategic in how they balance thoughtfully streamlined, food-cost-effective menus and enough variety to satisfy demand and lead the latest trends.
For those offering it, off-premises remains a key area of opportunity, and customers agree, with a vast majority (88 percent) reporting being satisfied with the variety of local food options for takeout and delivery. Customers are viewing take-out in new ways, with two thirds (67 percent) of adults saying they’d be interested in subscriptions that offer a specified number of meals each month and half (53 percent) saying they’re open to supplementing home-cooked meals with restaurant-prepared items.
“This is an historic and exciting year for the restaurant industry,” added Hudson Riehle, Senior Vice President of the Research and Knowledge Group for the National Restaurant Association. “While challenges remain—including inflation, recruitment, higher operating costs and profitability—restaurant operators will continue to innovate and evolve to meet customer demands.”
Click here to download the 2024 State of the Restaurant Industry Report, supported by Sage.
Dear LRA Members,
As the parade season kicks into gear this weekend, we can expect increased compliance measures from various regulators—specifically those in the public safety realm.
First, the Fire Marshal will check that premise capacities are being followed and will have deputy marshals in the field.
The Louisiana Alcohol Tobacco Control (ATC) will have agents performing compliance checks to verify permits and monitor the sale of alcohol and tobacco products to minors. To avoid citations or more serious repercussions, please review these reminders for alcohol-permitted establishments, particularly along the parade routes.
A few suggestions include:
Is Your Private Contract Security Company Licensed?
Louisiana requires private security companies to be licensed and security officers registered. The Louisiana State Board of Private Security Examiners has shared a letter explaining the license and registration requirements and a sample of a specimen security officer's license. Read more here.
Safety Tips from Carnival Vets
With the volume of parade-goers flooding the French Quarter, St. Charles corridor, Veterans Memorial Blvd. in Metairie, and other cities across the state, ensuring the safety of your staff and customers is of the utmost importance.
Here are some tips from LRA member restaurant owners and Mardi Gras veterans:
If there’s a tip we’ve overlooked that you’d like to share, please email us at email@example.com.
SVP of Communications
Wednesday, Feb. 7, 1:00pm Central
Restaurant sales are forecast to top $1T for the first time in history, and the nation’s second-largest private sector employer is on track to continue adding jobs, growing the nation’s second-largest private workforce.
Get key findings, including:
• Consumers love restaurants: 9 in 10 adults say they enjoy going to restaurants.
• Operator opinion on competitive pressures.
• Consumer outlook on the national and local economies – and how that could impact their spending.
• And which costs operators are watching most closely.
Hear more about the findings from the 2024 State of the Restaurant Industry report. Considered the authoritative source for industry sales projections and trends, it’s based on analysis and forecasts by National Restaurant Association economists and surveys of restaurant operators and consumers.
Join us on Wed., Feb. 7, at 1 p.m. Central where Hudson Riehle, SVP of Research and Knowledge will discuss the findings and address audience questions. Register today!