DVP Dawn Sweeney: ‘Restaurants Are the Fabric of America’

Distinguished Visiting Professor and NRA president and CEO Dawn Sweeney speaks to hospitality students.

According to Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association (NRA), data collected by the NRA’s Education Foundation shows that “restaurants are the fabric of America and drive the economy.”

Sweeney, who spoke to a large crowd of hospitality students and faculty as the College of Hospitality Management’s 60th Distinguished Visiting Professor (DVP), shared these statistics:

  • 1 in 10 working Americans work in the restaurant industry
  • 50% of Americans have worked in a restaurant at one point
  • 2nd largest private employer (1st is healthcare)
  • 150 million customers every day
  • $800 billion in sales = 4% of GDP
  • 84% of American restaurants are classified as small business
  • 33% of restaurant businesses are owned by women
  • 56% of supervisors in the industry are women

She encouraged hospitality students just entering the industry to be curious and ask as many questions as possible. “Pay attention to experiences that shape you. And take note of moments of inspiration, regret, breakthroughs and heartbreak — they’re all meaningful.”

She also told the crowd that restaurant work teaches life lessons beneficial to people in all industries, including: day-in-day-out devotion to excellence, insatiable curiosity, a willingness to learn and entrepreneurship skills.

To meet industry demand and stay ahead, Sweeney told students that it’s important to focus on logistics, supply chain management, digital marketing and real-time analytics. “Learn the value of working in teams. Reward is not in the play by play, but instead in the aggregate impact over time,” she added.

First-year student Gabrielle Grunin Awarded DVP Scholarship poses with Dawn Sweeney.

First-year Student Gabrielle Grunin Awarded DVP Scholarship
While on campus, Sweeney presented this year’s DVP scholarship to first-year student Gabrielle Grunin. A Restaurant, Food and Beverage Management major, Grunin ’21 received a $2,000 scholarship, renewable each year she’s a student at JWU.

“Being selected to receive the DVP scholarship is a feeling that is indescribable,” says Grunin. “Especially because I’m the first freshman ever to be selected for it.To know that the faculty around you acknowledge your hard work and dedication to the industry is an amazing feeling to have.”

The night before Sweeney’s presentation, Grunin had the opportunity to go out to dinner with Sweeney and other College of Hospitality Management faculty, including Dean Paul McVety.

“We went out to dinner at Hemenway’s, and we talked about a lot of things,including what I would like to pursue in the future,” Grunin says. “Dawn Sweeney is one of the most inspirational women I have met, and has definitely helped me to overcome many of my struggles.”

Grunin adds that during their conversation, she confessed to Sweeney that one of her weaknesses is being a perfectionist. “She told me, ‘You must be vulnerable. Do not strive for perfection because being perfect is impossible and will be your biggest downfall. Rather ask for help, and look for feedback.’”