If there’s one thing City Paper readers know about us, it’s that we love our local restaurants. We’ve made a name for ourselves keeping you up to date on the latest developments and innovative twists in the fast-moving world of Charleston cuisine.

So why write a story about the food and beverage industry’s drinking problem? Because we know how vitally important this business is to our town. Yes, a hot new farm-to-table concept restaurant or Thai eatery is exciting for anyone who appreciates a good meal, but it can also mean big money and national acclaim for the city we call home.

According to a study funded by Charleston Creative Parliament that used data from 2008, 5,782 people were employed in culinary work in the Charleston metro area. The report included only people working in local restaurants with trained chefs, not chain establishments. Those workers earned $26 million in wages and had gross sales of $67 million.

But Steve Warner, a founding member of Parliament, says restaurant workers — like many creative workers — do more than just generate taxable revenue. They build our reputation.

“We not only see it as an economic impact, but really as a branding and awareness impact on our region,” says Warner, who is also vice president of global marketing and regional competitiveness at the Charleston Regional Development Alliance. “It helps us in our efforts to promote the region as a great destination for business and talent.”

This story will be part of an occasional series on the problems faced by people working in Charleston’s restaurant industry. Future topics could include tipping and wages, health insurance, and the physical wear and tear of the job. Like any line of business, restaurant work can be both rewarding and frustrating, healthy and hazardous.

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