All News

Five Industry Insights from TRA + TRF Board of Directors Meeting

150+ foodservice leaders convened in Dallas to discuss the state of the industry, expand workforce development opportunities and analyze emerging tech trends

AUSTIN, TEXAS (February 22, 2024) –
The Texas Restaurant Association and Texas Restaurant Foundation Board of Directors met in Dallas this week for their spring meeting. Both boards represent all sectors of the foodservice industry, advocating for over 1.4 million employees across nearly 55,000 locations in Texas. The foodservice industry is a critical component of the state’s economy, generating $95 billion in annual revenue and growing.

During the three-day meeting, five industry insights emerged as TRA and TRF board members learned from each other and guest speakers. Additionally, board members enjoyed a networking dinner at the ever-popular Mi Cocina, as well as a fundraising event at Electric Shuffle that benefitted the TRA’s advocacy efforts. The events culminated with Food in Fashion, an immersive experience hosted by the Greater Dallas Chapter of the TRA where food, art and design come together to raise money for the TRF’s workforce and education programs.

Five Industry Highlights: 

1. The economy is tough, but consumers still love their restaurants.  
Nationally, restaurant industry sales are projected to hit a record-breaking $1.1 trillion by the end of 2024. Texas restaurants continue to lead these projections, with the number of establishments steadily growing every quarter. Further, on-premises experiences and off-premises meals continue to be very popular. According to a recent survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association, during the previous week:  

  • Over 50% of adults used restaurants for an on-premises dinner, and
  • Nearly 65% used restaurants for an off-premises dinner.
At the same time, inflation is creating ongoing challenges for restaurants and their guests. The good news: commodity pricing has fallen for many ingredients including butter (-10%), chicken (-15%) and eggs (-28%). The bad news: commodity pricing remains especially high for beef (+13%) and grocery price increases are no longer outpacing restaurant menu price increases. The TRA reports that restaurants are already adjusting to this economic landscape by focusing on delivering value and a memorable guest experience. 

2. Restaurants are leaning into workforce development to tackle the industry’s top challenge and meet anticipated demand. 
According to the latest National Restaurant Association survey, recruiting employees ranked as operators’ top challenge—above sales volume, the economy and operating costs. This challenge is top-of-mind in Texas, where restaurants need to add over 225,000 additional jobs by 2030.  

The TRA and TRF are leading many initiatives to empower Texas restaurants to meet this challenge, including: 
  • Texas ProStart is the leading culinary arts and hospitality management program in the state. With the TRF’s leadership, over 27,000 Texas students are benefiting from this program in over 250 high schools and counting.
  • In collaboration with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Reentry and Integration Division, the TRF is leading the nation in creating a second-chance hiring initiative for the foodservice and hospitality industry. Roughly 70 million adults in the US have a criminal record, and the TRF’s program is specifically tailored to reduce recidivism by ensuring justice-involved individuals receive the work-readiness skills, credentialing and job placement they need to be successful. Employers in need of skilled workers may register at
  • The TRA recently partnered with Early Matters, Texas Association of Business and Texas 2036 to launch the Employers for Childcare Task Force. The task force is bringing together a diverse group of business leaders to develop public policy proposals to expand working families’ access to affordable, high-quality childcare before the Texas Legislature convenes in January 2025.
  • The TRA continues to bring products, services and education to restaurant operators so they can holistically support their employees. For example, TRA members can provide unlimited virtual mental health and medical visits to their employees through the TRA’s HealthiestYou by Teladoc bundle for just $9 a month per employee (or $12 a month per employee for non-TRA members). 

3. To quote a wise man, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  
Board members enjoyed a fireside chat between Larry Lavine, Chili’s founder and Dallas legend, and Emily Williams Knight, Ed.D., President and CEO of the TRA. Considered the father of casual dining, Larry emphasized the importance of culture to any restaurant’s success. Illustrating his point, several TRA and TRF board members thanked Larry because they worked at Chili’s or have carried lessons learned from Chili’s to build a successful career. 

With today’s industry disruptions, Larry’s talk was a reminder to focus on the core tenets of a successful restaurant—dedicated team members who are recognized for their contributions, delicious food and a welcoming atmosphere.  

4. Restaurant technology is poised to address costs and operational demands when incorporated strategically. 
During a panel discussion, experts in restaurant technology shared their experience and insights on the rapid advancement of new tools that promise to help operators manage inventories, respond to guest feedback and otherwise operate a more efficient business. With sharp cost increases on food, labor, credit card processing, insurance and utilities, the demand for restaurant technology to deliver meaningful time and money savings has never been stronger. TRA board member and panel moderator Bryan Solar of SpotOn shared, “Now more than ever, operators need to use technology to make their businesses better so they can then begin to work smarter and have the space to think about the long-term strategic direction of their business.” To this end, board members highlighted the breadth of solutions TRA members can leverage from the Member Benefits Center and the return on the investment of membership. 

Board members also discussed the integration of machine learning and generative AI in their business processes, particularly as these tools are refined. At the same time, panelists urged TRA and TRF board members to invest in new technology solutions only after performing due diligence to ensure different products talk to each other and will solve for a specific challenge. The discussions that followed between some of the largest and smallest foodservice brands and our allied partners exemplify the collaboration that is a hallmark of the TRA.  

5. Advocacy matters, and restaurants win when they unite for change. 
With the leadership of the TRA and TRF boards and 23 grassroots chapters across the state, the TRA advocates for every foodservice business in Texas at the local, state and federal levels of government. Just last year, Texas restaurants united to achieve policy wins on topics as diverse as regulatory consistency and predictability, fees and taxes and community college funding.  

Every restaurant can help deliver the next set of advocacy wins. Especially critical now are several federal topics, including: 

To discover the advantages of membership and become part of the movement, restaurants are encouraged to visit

Formed in 1937, the Texas Restaurant Association serves as the advocate and indispensable resource for the foodservice industry in Texas. As a leading business association, the TRA represents the state’s $95 billion restaurant industry, which encompasses upwards of 55,000 locations and a workforce of over 1.4 million employees. Along with the Texas Restaurant Foundation, the workforce development arm of the TRA, the association proudly continues to protect, advance, and educate a growing industry as the TRA enters its 87th year. For more information, please visit

Established in 1994 by the Texas Restaurant Association, the Texas Restaurant Foundation (TRF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to building and maintaining a strong professional foodservice workforce in Texas. Leveraging the latest skills, tools and certifications, the TRF creates pathways of opportunity for one of the state’s largest and most diverse industries. The organization’s flagship program is Texas ProStart, an industry-based, two-year high school culinary arts and restaurant management program that reaches more than 27,000 students across over 250 high schools in Texas. The TRF also supports restaurants in times of crisis; for example, in 2020, the TRF established the TX Restaurant Relief Fund to raise and distribute more than $3.5 million to support over 800 independent restaurants and their employees through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For more information, please visit