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Tom Bené, CEO of the National Restaurant Association, on the resilience of the restaurant industry.

New National Restaurant Association CEO Tom Bené calls coronavirus losses ‘catastrophic’

After assuming role June 1, former Sysco executive outlines group’s goals

 A little more than week into his tenure as CEO and president of the National Restaurant Association and CEO of its educational foundation, Tom Bené said the industry faces huge challenges.

“The biggest challenges we are facing as an industry right now – and certainly over the past few months – are the catastrophic losses we’ve had both from an employment standpoint and revenue or sales standpoint for restaurants,” Bené said in a Zoom interview. Bene assumed his new association positions on June 1.

The association predicts restaurant industry losses will reach $240 billion by the end of the calendar year because of the coronavirus pandemic, which led many cities and states to impose restrictions on dining.

And the nearly 15 million people employed in the foodservice industry, the largest private-sector employer behind health care, also suffered during the COVID-19 restrictions, he said. “At the height of the coronavirus efforts, there were about 8 million jobs lost or furloughed,” Bené said.

During times of crisis like coronavirus, Bené said the association’s role is to listen to its membership closely and respond to meet its needs, such as recently issuing guidance for restaurants reopening, and leverage industry partners on various topics, from menu and training to takeout and delivery.

Bené, who stepped down as president and CEO of Houston-based Sysco Corp., the food distribution giant, at the end of January, talks about what traits he will rely on in the new position and his advice for customers thinking about returning to dine-in restaurants.

Listen to the conversation here:

The National Restaurant Association, founded in 1919, and its educational foundation sponsor such programs as the ServSafe certification program, the ProStart high school career-building platform and a variety of other industry platforms.

This is part of our Stories from the Front Lines series.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless 

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