Election 2016 has stormed through Super Tuesday and continues across the country as the presidential aspirants work to sway voters along the campaign trail. Candidates have brought their entourage of politicos and media as they barnstorm from city to city. Many of these stump speeches and gatherings occur in restaurants, which have been a focal point for U.S. politics since before there was a union.


Boston's Green Dragon Tavern and New York City's Fraunces Tavern were pre-revolutionary meeting sites for the Sons of Liberty. Fraunces Tavern served as headquarters for George Washington, and City Tavern in Philadelphia was one of the favorite meeting places for many of the Founding Fathers and the members of the First Continental Congress.

Today, restaurants provide the perfect gathering place to share ideas and meals with voters. But candidates and the media that follow them should pause and look beyond the photo op that restaurants provide to realize that America's restaurants are much more than places to shake hands and kiss babies.

We are truly one of few surviving frontiers for entrepreneurship and one of the bright spots in our economy. As the nation's second-largest private-sector employer, restaurants employ over 14 million individuals, representing 10 percent of the total U.S. workforce.

As the campaigners made their way through Iowa over the past few months, many stopped at Rastrelli's restaurant in Clinton, an independent family-owned business that is celebrating 77 years of serving customers and employing Iowans. From its humble beginnings as a small candy shop and soda fountain, way back when Franklin Roosevelt was president, Rastrelli's has grown into a landmark restaurant in Clinton and the surrounding area.

Since 1939, thousands of Iowans from all walks of life have worked at Rastrelli's, demonstrating firsthand the most important attribute of the restaurant industry: The opportunity and clear career path set forth for anyone willing to pursue it. Anyone can quite literally start out in an entry-level position and work her or his way to the top.

In fact, career mobility in the restaurant industry is consistent across the country. Eighty percent of today's restaurant owners started in an entry-level position within the restaurant industry.

Nowhere else can you receive training from front of house to back of house in customer service, multitasking and personality management — all in a unique, high-pressure environment. It's certainly not cut out for everybody, but those that aspire to make something of themselves will quickly learn that an entry-level job is not a dead end, but an open door.

To tell these stories throughout the 2016 campaign, the National Restaurant Association has launched #RestaurantsDecide, an initiative showcasing the role restaurants play as cornerstones of their community during elections, convening candidates, voters and employees, managers and owners on the campaign trail.

Through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, #RestaurantsDecide will encourage restaurants, employees and patrons across America to join us as we highlight campaign stops in restaurants across the country. The campaign will shine a light on the economic contributions of the restaurant industry in each community, and share the stories from restaurant owners, operators and employees. In addition, it will highlight many of the more personal and unscripted stops candidates make along the campaign trail — the meetings at restaurants where the candidates actually interact with the voters.

As this election season moves ahead, candidates will visit voters in America's restaurants to offer their vision for job creation and prosperity.

If they stop and look around, they may realize that the true success story already surrounds them.

Simpson is executive vice president of government affairs and policy of the National Restaurant Association.