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Spring fever is heating things up for restaurants

Spring fever is heating things up for restaurants

Maybe it’s just that spring is in the air.

The restaurant industry is performing well, with recent same-store sales growth rates some of the highest in 10 years. More people have jobs, more consumers are dining out, gas prices are low and the winter wasn’t as harsh as the year before.

New CEOs are eager to effect change and create growth, like Gene Lee at Darden Restaurants Inc., Greg Creed at Yum! Brands Inc., or Steve Easterbrook at McDonald’s Corp. Not to mention a handful of new leaders at P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Johnny Rockets, Real Mex and Culver’s.

Nearly 3,000 foodservice executives attended the Women’s Foodservice Forum Annual Leadership and Development Conference this month, renewing a commitment to the advancement of women leaders and diverse team building. Keynote speaker Sally Smith, CEO of Buffalo Wild Wings Inc., even spoke of a very spring-like theme — opportunity.

“Opportunity surrounds us,” she said. “We are strongest when we see it, seize it and extend it to others.”

Maybe spring is indeed here. This positivity is hard to ignore.

Former McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson also spoke at the event about new ventures, just weeks after stepping away from a 25-year career with the world’s largest quick-
service chain. It was his tremendous faith that helped Thompson remain resilient during rocky times, he said.

“If you ensure as an individual that you have a foundation, it’s easier to bounce back and recover,” he said. “I retired March 1, and on March 2 I started my new business,” Thompson continued. “I was on GoDaddy looking up domain names.”

Thompson said he plans to look into ventures in food and technology, working with people eager to fund and create new ideas. It’s a world where he sees tremendous opportunity. (There’s that word again.)

The restaurant industry needs to take moments like these — strong financial performance and senior talent speaking about the industry’s opportunities — and double down. There are people, stories and tangible economic contributions that foodservice can be proud of, and can use as a foil when inevitably questioned, or even attacked, on hot-button issues like minimum wage, labor practices or diversity in senior roles.

Joe Kefauver, managing partner at Parquet Public Affairs and NRN columnist, often speaks about foodservice industry perception. He breaks down how Walmart’s decision to raise the minimum wage for its workers to $10 by February 2016 will affect restaurants (and it will). Kefauver has long said the conversation around the restaurant industry needs to change from one of defensive tactics to talk of economic … you guessed it, opportunity.

“Let’s talk less about our industry’s business model and talk more about our role in America’s economic model,” he has said.

Yes. It’s officially spring.

Sarah E. Lockyer, Editor-in-Chief
e-mail: [email protected]
Twitter: @slockyerNRN

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