E-mail, texting, instant messaging, Twitter, Skype, Facebook, MySpace and the good old telephone. The methods of communication available to us nowadays are numerous, and yet I would posit that none can compare to the least technical and most ancient form of all: talking face to face.
Like many people involved in the restaurant industry, I’ve spent the past several weeks traveling to various conferences, meeting new people, learning more about people I thought I knew and absorbing a variety of new ideas and bits of wisdom that would never find me if my outreach was only electronic.
For example, during this year’s Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators conference I witnessed an impassioned debate on the relationship between price and value, talked with David Pogue about his transition from Broadway to technology columnist for The New York Times, and learned that Don Fox, chief executive of Firehouse Subs and the 2011 Operator of the Year, also is an accomplished musician and published a book called “Patton’s Vanguard: The United States Army Fourth Armored Division” in 2003.
What I’ve heard has not only informed my perceptions, but also deepened my connections to some pretty fascinating people.
In this issue’s special report we look back at MUFSO 2011, which was held in Grapevine, Texas, from Sept. 25-27, and Menu Trends & Directions, held Sept. 27-28. While we can’t bring to life the magic that occurs when nearly 800 industry members come together for a few days of education and networking, we hope that in these pages and in our real-time coverage at NRN.com we captured a snapshot of the quality of the programming and the camaraderie prompted by both events.
Of course, the continuing economic turmoil dominating the industry was a frequent topic of discussion at both MUFSO and MT&D, but more notable was a growing resolve to persevere and excel despite the environment. In panels and private conversation, people talked about the proactive steps they were taking to move their brands forward.
Similarly, in Business Intel we look at the strategies T.G.I. Friday’s is employing to stir up the “sea of sameness” — as Nick Shepherd, president and chief executive of Friday’s parent Carlson Restaurants Worldwide, calls it — that has been drowning the casual-dining segment. From menu items to decor to international expansion, the groundbreaking 900-unit chain is working to stay relevant as it barrels toward its 50th birthday in 2015.
When it comes to growth, many restaurant brands are rethinking both their boxes and where to put them. In Operations we look at the evolution of the nontraditional location. With outlets in hospitals, businesses and airports increasingly commonplace, operators are expanding their horizons and modifying their units to fit into bowling alleys, pharmacies, churches and other innovative areas where people congregate.
In the Food & Beverage section we look at another hot topic: soup. With colder weather on the way, operators are turning to soup for its warmth, comfort and health halo. And while old standbys like chicken with vegetables remain popular, less familiar varieties like tortilla soup and gumbo are gaining favor.
In Marketing we delve into a study revealing that the most effective way for restaurant marketers to engage customers on Facebook is through questions and by soliciting opinions. In other words, people seem to value dialogue, repartee, and the chance to interact and connect, even in the digital world. That’s something we should talk about next time we meet face to face. There’s no telling what new things we’ll discover as the conversation unfolds — don’t you think?