From branded wellness concepts to the latest menu trends, training strategies to customer research, the 2011 FM IDEAS Conference offered meaningful ideas and strategies to onsite operators across all segments.
Food Management's 2011 IDEAS Conference was held at the sprawling, luxurious Gaylord Texas Resort outside Dallas at the end of September, and for the first time it was held in tandem with two high-profile commercial operator events staged by FM's new sister publication, Nation's Restaurant News.
NRN's annual(Multi-Unit Food Service Operators) and Menu Trends & Directions Conferences were held at the same venue, giving FM IDEAS attendees an opportunity to reap some added insight from presentations targeted to the commercial restaurant sector with a single registration securing entry to all events at the three conferences.
Indeed, several Menu Trends events were formally included in the IDEAS agenda to supplement its onsite-focused sessions, which featured a number of prominent industry figures discussing topics such as concept development, measuring customer satisfaction and healthful dining trends.
In addition, a group of 2011 FM Best Concept Award winners discussed their innovations in a special panel event before being honored at FM's annual Best Concept Award Dinner. FM IDEAS wrapped up with a tour of the new Cowboys Stadium foodservice facilities in nearby Irving.
The conference kicked off for IDEAS attendees with a keynote address from Guy Kawasaki, a best-selling author and former “evangelist” for Apple Computers. He provided an energetic, engaging and thought-provoking presentation titled The Top 10 Ways to Enchant Customers. In addition to top Kawasaki management tips, what made it memorable was the many anecdotes and examples Kawasaki sprinkled throughout his talk.
Many of these included germs of ideas and strategies that onsite foodservice operations might take to heart. For example, to “Achieve Likeability,” he advised dressing “for a tie,” that is, staff dress should be equal to that of the customer because it says, “We're peers.” Underdressing implies “I don't respect you” while overdressing implies “I am better than you.”
The keynote was followed by successive presentations from Boston College Dining Director Helen Wechsler, Yale University Retail/Graduate Dining Director Tom Tucker, Principal Kent Bain of Wood Bain Associates and University of Colorado-Boulder Dining Director Amy Beckstrom (for more on their presentations, see sidebar on p. 32).
IDEAS attendees then repaired to a joint session with Menu Trends attendees to hear noted industry consultant Nancy Kruse, who gave a well received presentation on menu trends. Just a few of the highlights…
Waffles. Kruse termed the waffle her 2011 Ingredient of the Year, citing innovations like the Waffle Breakfast Sandwich from Dunkin Donuts, a Coconut and Basil(!) Waffle from Avenue, the Bold Folds Waffles from Bruxie's with flavors like prosciutto/gruyere and smoked salmon/dill, Chicken and Waffles from IHOP and Wired Waffles, a frozen retail item that is a “caffeinated toaster waffle” containing 2.5 times the caffeine of a Red Bull.
Pretzels. Innovative uses Kruse cited included a Soft Pretzel Bacon Burger (Friendly's), a White Chocolate & Pretzel Pancake (Bongo Room) and a Pretzel Bun Chili Dog (Wienerschnitzel's).
Stuffed/Stacked Foods. Stuffed innovations include the Stuffed Steakhouse Burger (Burger King), Stuffed French Toast (La Madeleine's) and the Ultimate Stuffed Crust Pizza (Pizza Hut), while stacked items include the Fresh Tuna Stack from Bahama Breeze and the Pastrami Burger from Carrows, which is also innovative for using a protein (the pastrami) as a condiment.
Kruse was followed by another joint IDEAS/Menu Trends presentation, a panel on “Tomorrow's Menu” that included Vanderbilt University Dining Director Camp Howard along with Panera VP of Food Dan Kish and Cheesecake Factory Corporate Chef/VP of Culinary Bob Okura. Some takeaways…
Different Breads, Different Spreads. The panel agreed that soup/sandwich combos continue to be popular, but with more variety, such as different breads, proteins and spreads.
Viral Buzz. Howard mentioned that his operation has had great success promoting a sandwich program by not announcing what types were on the menu that day but letting students discover it for themselves and then spreading the word through social media, making the “buzz” more organic.
Unintended Consequence. Okura noted that Cheesecake Factory found an unexpected benefit in a small plate program originally intended to attract more budget-conscious consumers: “it actually grew check averages!”
The first day's agenda wrapped up with a panel of Best Concept winners discussing how they developed and implemented their award-winning initiatives (see p. 32) and then the Best Concepts Award Dinner (see p. 34).
Kicking off the second day's agenda was Celebrity Chef Stephan Pyles (Samar, Star Canyon, etc.), who was interviewed by NRN's Ron Ruggless. “The change in Southwestern from yesterday to today is mostly in techniques and ingredients, not in flavors,” he said. “When I started, it was an ‘elite’ cuisine, but now it has trickled down to be standard.”
That was followed by a series of presentations about the “Business of Menu Development.” Speakers included NRA Public Affairs Specialist Dan Roehl and Executive VP Darren Tristano of the Technomic, Inc., research organization.
IDEAS attendees then finished their day with a pair of panel discussions. The first focused on healthcare and featured Julie Jones, director of nutrition services at the Ohio State University Medical Center; Kelly Cook, executive chef and production manager at Harris Methodist Hospital Southwest in Dallas; and Gary Vorstenbosch of Plano (TX) Presbyterian Hospital (see. p. 33).
The last educational event of the conference was a discussion of healthy dining strategies facilitated by FM Editor in Chief Lawn and Mary Kimbrough, principal at Culinary Nutrition Associates and a prominent former director in the healthcare segment.
It featured David Riddle, executive director of dining services at Texas A&M University; Celia Krazit, MS, RD, LD, nutrition services director at Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas; Laura Lozano, global dining & amenities manager for Dell Global Workplace & Environments; and Todd Coutee, senior VP of Luby's Fuddruckers, LLC (see p. 33).Mastering Multi-Concept/Location Situations Best Concept Winners Panel Discuss How They Did It Healthcare Menu Makeovers How to Succeed at Healthful Dining in an Onsite Environment FM Best Concept Winners Take the Stage