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Growing Strong — An Interview With Restaurants Canada CEO Donna Dooher

After some major triumphs this past year, Restaurants Canada finds itself cultivating new jobs, new talent and a new culinary footprint for Canada.

by Anna Cipollone

One way or another, most of us visit a restaurant every day. Whether it’s grabbing a quick coffee en route to work or dining out over drinks, there are more than 18 million visits to food service operations in our country every day.  Employing 1.2 million Canadians, it’s a dynamic industry with a vast reach– and Restaurants Canada President and CEO Donna Dooher talks with us about how it nourishes both the nation and the economy.

Why is the restaurant industry important in Canada?

It touches individuals from coast to coast. We’re a gathering spot for Canadians and an important part of the community. Our members are a reflection of Canada’s incredibly diverse food service landscape — from take-out to high-end dining in urban and rural communities. We work closely with farmers and other food producers to feed the population and create a local, provincial and national culinary identity for Canada.

What does that mean for the economy?

We’re the number one employer for young people looking for their first job, where they learn vital skills like customer service, time management and teamwork. We were also the leading job creator in 2014, with 31,300 new jobs added — the most of any industry in Canada.

What’s putting Canada on the map in terms of its international food identity?

The whole notion of culinary tourism is growing rapidly. In Prince Edward County, in Quebec, in Newfoundland — and it’s our restaurants that are driving that growth. They’re bringing new products to consumers and creating the innovative experiences that tourists are looking for. All the building blocks are in place for Canada to become a culinary superstar.

What kind of impact does the restaurant industry have on the day-to-day lives of Canadians?

People turn to us for so many reasons. It can be just to save time in their busy day or to reconnect with friends and family around the table. In this digital age especially, we offer a chance to connect face-to-face. That’s disappearing in our society — so it’s a real strength of our industry.

What trends are emerging for 2015?

We’re seeing more Fast Casual establishments, where high-end Chefs are offering a more accessible menu at a lower price point. People are more and more aware of nutrition. Eating local has been a big one for a few years now and it shows no sign of slowing down. Knowing where your food comes from and forming a relationship with your food producers — the farm-to-table connection — will continue to flourish.

What’s the best thing about working in the restaurant industry?

It’s an industry of opportunity, no question. If you work hard and give it your all, you’re going to progress, and the opportunities are incredible.

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