How the NRAEF is setting up Tampa Bay restaurants for a better future

The restaurant industry has been hit hard by COVID-19. “We have to get the industry and restaurant workers back on their feet,” said Rob Gifford, president of the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF). “We ended 2020 with 2.5 million fewer jobs.”

It didn’t help that, due to pandemic lockdowns, changes in consumer behavior and various regulations around restaurant capacity and safety protocol, America’s restaurant and foodservice industry lost $240 billion in sales by the end of 2020.

What these numbers don’t show is how much work the NRAEF, the philanthropic foundation of the National Restaurant Association, has put into trying to stabilize the industry in this time of crisis. The NRAEF is a purpose-driven organization dedicated to changing lives and uplifting communities. “We strive to empower people from all backgrounds with the training and education that they need in order to secure a better future,” Gifford said.

This past year, that’s meant rolling out resources to employees and employers like sanitary procedures, facility safety guidance, regulatory information to navigate closings and reopenings – anything to help them adjust to rapid changes within the industry. The NRAEF has also continued to help educate trainees in the workforce with the skillsets they need to be at the top of their game. The Foundation makes it happen with a combination of hands-on training programs and a wide inventory of digital products.

In a bigger move, and backed by partner Guy Fieri, Gifford said, “We made a decision to do a hard pivot and to launch what was for us a brand new initiative: the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund. And that really was an effort to provide assistance to restaurant workers all around the country to try and help them in their time of need. We were blessed to have more than 15,000 individuals around the country contribute as well as some of the biggest names and brands from corporate America, obviously led by PepsiCo. We raised nearly $22 million through this effort.”

The result: The NRAEF was able to give out $500 grants to more than 43,000 restaurant workers in all 50 states.

“It’s critical that we’re doing everything we can to help the restaurant businesses and restaurant employees keep their operations open to the best of their ability, to keep them safe, to protect their customers, to continue to provide the food and nourishment that the communities around our nation have come to depend upon restaurants to serve,” Gifford said.

This effort is only growing stronger in 2021, as the pandemic drags on. “Our most recent initiative, which we’re super excited about,” Gifford said, “is to join in with Pepsi Stronger Together’s Super Bowl campaign.”

With the Super Bowl unfolding in Tampa Bay at limited capacity, the area restaurants are missing out on an event that would normally draw tens of thousands of visitors and be a boom for the local economy.

“That’s simply not going to be able to happen in the way in which it was originally anticipated,” Gifford said. “So, we know that there are Tampa area restaurants who had big hopes and dreams for what the Super Bowl might bring, and have seen those dreams diminished.”

Pepsi Stronger Together, in partnership with the NRAEF and the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, is providing $10K gift amounts – and $100K total – to a variety of restaurants in the Tampa Bay area as part of the NRAEF’s national “Change is on the Menu” fundraising campaign to help rebuild restaurant workers’ futures. In Tampa Bay, the goal is to help restaurants offset some of the loss of Super Bowl revenue, while lifting the local economy. These gifts can help restaurants financially support their teams as well as invest in safety measures to improve their ability to accommodate more guests, Gifford said.

And, remember: None of this work would be happening if there wasn’t hope for a better future.

“There is enormous resiliency in the restaurant industry,” Gifford said. “We know that there’s tremendous spirit, there’s tremendous passion, and that people love the industry and want to see it rebound. I believe that by continuing to work together as an industry, with a community of supporters like PepsiCo, with the support of the American public and the dining public, you're going to see, soon, a really exciting rebirth of the restaurant industry.”

Visit to join in helping restaurant workers get their futures back on track.