Every year for the next five years, approximately 250,000 military servicemen and women will part from active duty. During that timespan, the foodservice industry will generate more than 800,000 new jobs.

The Coca-Cola Company’s partner, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) sees opportunity in those numbers.

Helping prepare military veterans to find a home in the foodservice industry is part of the NRAEF’s mission to support the restaurant industry by developing a stronger workforce and building the next generation of industry leaders.

The Perfect Pair

NRAEF, the philanthropic arm of the National Restaurant Association (NRA), has supported foodservice excellence in the U.S. Armed Forces since 1956.

NRAEF’s Military Foodservice Awards
Award-winning military foodservice operations from bases and installations worldwide are recognized at the NRAEF’s Military Foodservice Awards.

More than 60 years later, this commitment has grown into NRAEF programs that recognize military foodservice excellence, train service members for post-military foodservice careers and provide transition services for those about to enter the civilian workforce.

NRAEF believes it is not only veterans who may be in need of a new career following their service, but it is the foodservice industry that needs veterans.

“The military is such a good fit for the foodservice industry,” explains Alyssa Prince, director of community relations, NRAEF, and self-described “mother hen” to the service members involved in these programs. “They’re trained to have great leadership skills; they’re put in situations where they have to think quickly, act responsibly and take orders; there’s a level of respect, dedication and commitment that’s great for our industry.”

Hands-on learning
Service members in military foodservice receive hands-on learning and education from culinary instructors at the Culinary Institute of America – Greystone during the Armed Forces Forum for Culinary Excellence.

Nineteen percent of veterans employed in the restaurant industry hold management positions, compared to 10 percent of non-veterans in the field. “This industry cares for servicemen and women," Prince says. "We want them to see us as an industry that wants to work with them if and when they choose to transition to civilian life.”

She continues, “They see our programs as someone investing in their future. They’ve earned that investment.”

Coca-Cola, a longtime supporter of the NRA and NRAEF, agrees.

Since 2002, the company has pledged $11 million to cultivate the future of the restaurant and foodservice industry.

"The NRAEF is an incubator for our industry’s future," says Roy Jackson, Coca-Cola’s senior vice president of business development and industry affairs. "By providing rewarding foodservice opportunities for veterans, the foundation not only supports those who have spent their lives serving others, but it also strengthens the future for our restaurant customers. We are eager to continue supporting the NRAEF in these efforts.”

Building a Future

NRAEF Training
In 2014 the NRAEF initiated a management-level training program that takes place during the annual NRA Show. Servicemembers participate in mentoring roundtables, cooking demonstrations and attend educational sessions at The Show where they can meet with industry and learn about careers in foodservice.

There are many paths forward for veterans who want to enter the industry. In addition to chefs, sommeliers and CEOs, the restaurant industry needs information technology experts, logistic specialists, marketing pros, financial analysts, engineers and more.

Prince jokes that the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show® ia lined with “six miles of aisles” of booths that present possible opportunities for veterans to enter the foodservice industry.

And veterans deserve access to these opportunities. “These are men and women that have dedicated their lives to service for their country," she says. "It’s powerful to help improve their quality of life.”