I got my first job when I was 11 years old. My best friend’s dad, Jim Kibler, recruited me to work alongside his girls, helping out when his restaurant had a big catering job. We started small — filling cups with iced tea, helping with cleanup and other age-appropriate tasks. While I’m sure we were about the cheapest help you could find, I still remember that feeling of satisfaction as I stuck a little cash in my pocket at the event’s end.
It wasn’t long before Jim asked if I’d be interested in working at the restaurant a few hours per week, and it was a no-brainer. Time with my friends, the yummy meal of my choice before my shift and spending money to blow on CDs and nail polish — what more could a girl want?
The restaurant, Texas Hamburger Factory, was a fast-casual establishment where patrons went through a line to order. Burgers were made and passed across the counter on the spot, while barbecue, Tex-Mex and deep-fried dishes were brought out later.
At first, I carried orders to tables. Later, I was promoted to working the line. Eventually, I moved up to working takeout.
After learning Jim died last week, I’ve been reflecting on my time spent with that family, and on my gig at the restaurant. I learned a lot about life, work and food (which remains one of my favorite topics) there.
I also learned that, just like ranchers, restaurant owners and staff work tirelessly to put food on the table. And when it’s all said and done, they hope their food is what consumers choose, both for celebrations and the everyday.
Restaurants, from dive barbecue joints to the white tablecloth prime steakhouses, are often where the product you raise shines brightest. They’re also often the place where a consumer tries something new and loves it so much, they add it to their grocery list to duplicate at home.
In 2019, beef sales in the foodservice sector reached almost 8 billion pounds, accounting for more than $31 billion. Most expected 2020 would top that, but lockdowns due to COVID-19 left restaurants in uncharted territory. In mid-April, weekly restaurant transactions were down 40% as compared to the same week in 2019.
According to Jace Thurman, market intelligence analyst for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, in a typical year, the foodservice industry makes up about 60% of beef demand in the U.S., with retail making up about 40%. This year is a reversal of that, with retail making up most demand.
Just like cattle raisers, restaurant owners and staff are hurting — and may for some time.
So, when you can, hit up your favorite steakhouse, drive into town for beef fajitas and margaritas, or buy brisket from your neighborhood stand when you don’t have time to smoke it yourself.
And if a young girl (or boy) waits on you, show them a little grace if they forget something the first time. They’re learning a lot more than the job at hand.
Katrina Huffstutler is the executive director of communications for Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.