DALLAS A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.
That was the motto of the day Monday at Nation's Restaurant News' Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators conference in Dallas as keynote speakers, panelists and attendees discussed how best to optimize their businesses during these challenging times.
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Acrowd of more than 500 attendees listened to presentations that covered the new rules of the road for financing, how to find the right opportunities to expand and how important the sharing of information can be, whether in new mediums like Twitter or old-fashioned face-to-face conversations.
Tom Ryan of Smashburger, a Nation’s Restaurant News Hot Concepts! award winner, said the fast-growing burger chain actively courts local bloggers when entering a new market, sometimes even hosting lunches to let them experience the brand. Because online personas can reach so many people, the chain takes very seriously the potential impact of online media, he said.
“There’s always been freedom of speech,” Ryan said, “but now there’s freedom to listen.”
Daniel Kim of Red Mango, another Hot Concepts winner, echoed that sentiment, and noted that the frozen yogurt chain maintains a strong social media presence on such sites as Facebook and Twitter.
“We can communicate [with consumers] but more importantly, listen to them,” he said. “It’s real-time engagement.”
Other executives from the 2009 Hot Concepts winning chains shared strategies for success on Monday. Panelists were Joe Fugere of Tutta Bella; Daniel Kim of Red Mango, Tom Ryan of Smashburger; Chris Simms of Lazy Dog Cafe; and Doug Tomlinson of Vino Volo. William Taylor, co-founder of Fast Company and author of “Mavericks at Work,” moderated the discussion after attendees first heard from him on the importance of idea sharing and communication for today's businesses.
The panelists agreed that a key to success is creating a unique brand experience. Noting that most of the winners specialized in very familiar products like burgers, pizza, yogurt and wine, Fugere of Tutta Bella said strong branding can make the familiar seem unique.
“These are things that people have celebrated and have been popular for years,” Fugere said. “But it’s about how you execute it -- basic ingredients served in an artisan way.”
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable,” also discussed the importance of execution, and he provided some tips to restaurateurs during his keynote presentation. First and foremost, he suggested listening to wisdom over theory, meaning heeding the advice from a grandmother over that of a Harvard MBA. He also encouraged businesses to focus on redundancies rather than optimization and to build as much of a financial cushion as possible, which can serve companies well during unprecedented times.