What We Learned
Expert Report on the 2012 Presidential Election
With the country yet again on a fiscal cliff, political expert Mark Halperin said this year’s election is one of—if not the—most important elections he’s ever covered in his political journalism career. Throughout President Obama’s four years in office, Halperin said, the commander in chief hasn’t been the unifier he set out to be, and he’s failed to consistently communicate with both voters and Congress on key rolling issues, such as jobs and the economy. Meanwhile, Halperin said, because Romney was able to get many moves passed as governor of Massachusetts despite a Democratic State Congress, there’s hope that he would be able to do the same as president. He’s also become the best fundraiser in presidential history, which gives him a big advantage in the campaign.
The political analyst noted that Romney’s major fault lies in the fact that he’s failed to give specific policy plans, and that he hasn’t shown voters that he can be dynamic and likeable. The Congressional elections will also be key this November, Halperin said, adding that no matter who takes the presidential crown, finding sudden compromise between the two parties—which is desperately needed to solve the impending fiscal problems—won’t be simple.
Strategies for Building a Dynamic Talent Pipeline
Turnover is by far one of the biggest challenges facing the restaurant industry, and that’s why building a talent pipeline is increasingly essential, said Fritzi Woods, CEO of the Women’s Foodservice Forum. She said 95 percent of young managers are constantly looking for a new job because they don’t receive enough mentoring, training, and coaching (and the fact that a lost manager can cost an operator almost $11,000 makes that idea even scarier).
To build a talent pipeline you can rely on, even when people decide to leave your company, brand, or store, Woods said, there are three key Cs: content, competencies, and connections. Leaders must make sure their employees are getting the right experiences to prepare them for the next step up (content), as well as instill characteristics like strategic thinking, initiative, and strong communication and listening skills in their staff (competencies). Finally, Woods said connections are the ultimate pipeline builder, as well as an answer to the lack of mentoring many managers receive. She said every leader and employee needs a mentor, an advocate who fights for them, and a sponsor who has the power to get them the job they want.
Five Trends About to Affect Foodservice
As restaurateurs, brand owners, and franchisees, it’s imperative to stay tapped into the latest restaurant and foodservice trends. Luckily, Marc Halperin, culinary director at the Center for Culinary Development and QSR columnist, did the dirty work for you, sharing five of the biggest trends that will affect foodservice in the near future.
The first trend, he said, is protein production challenges, because of the drought, decreasing supply, and increasing demand for beef, poultry, seafood, and pork. He said this is leading to the creation and innovation of more sustainable meat and seafood production. The next trend—and perhaps one that slightly alleviates the problems stemming from the first—is the rise of “flexitarians,” individuals who aren’t opposed to eating meat but who choose to eat less of it or leave it out altogether. Accordingly, brands are increasingly turning toward alternative proteins like soy, legumes, and nuts and dairy.
The third trend is seemingly obvious, yet extremely important: the shift in consumer diversity. Halperin said that, of the youngest portion of the U.S. population, 26 percent are Hispanic, and Hispanic customers are a huge chunk of the quick-serve market. He said ethnic consumers are interested in family-friendly and comfortable dining experiences, as well as fresher, healthier food and ingredients. Playing off this trend is the move toward global flavor domination. Halperin said the multicultural society is creating the need for flavors that are bigger, bolder, and more layered. In addition to diving into “new” ethnic cuisines, brands must also dig deeper into flavors and cuisines that are considered mainstream, like Mexican and Italian.
The final trend Halperin predicted will take over foodservice is the rise of better-for-you beverages. Somewhat as a reaction to all of the attention over sugary drinks, brands are serving beverages that are naturally healthful and have key wellness ingredients. Another option that caters to this trend is the rise in artisan or house-made sodas.
How to Grow Your Ethnic Brand Panel
With demographics shifting and projections that minorities will become the new majority in a matter of decades, the time is ripe for ethnic brands to blossom. But while ethnic is hot, ethnic brand owners—including Tin Drum AsiaCafe’s Steven Chan, Merzi’s Qaiser Kazmi, How Do You Roll?’s Yuen Yung, and Bhojanic’s Archna Becker—warned that these concepts must marry the worlds of foreign cuisine and American tastes.
The panelists said the key is helping customers and employees truly understand the dishes and the culture of the food they’re eating and serving. And while the opportunities seem endless for a range of ethnic cuisines and concepts, the panelists agreed that consistency—in menu items, culture, and customer service—is the ultimate step to building a successful ethnic brand.
What Great Brands Do
By today’s standards, it’s not enough to be just a good brand; you have to be a great one, marketing expert Denise Lee Yohn said. Not only can great brands charge higher prices and land lower costs, but they also have greater customer loyalty and advocacy, as well as higher market valuations.
Yohn said there are five major philosophies that all great brands adopt. First, great brands start with a strong culture and distinct brand identity, and this culture drives all of the brand’s stakeholders and decisions. Second, great brands sacrifice the sacred and aren’t afraid to go against the grain. Next, instead of just selling products, truly great brands focus on the emotional connections they provide for and with consumers. And while great brands think big, they also sweat the small stuff. They know that what they do and say in person can create a much bigger impact on customers and shareholders than what comes across in their advertising.
Finally, Yohn said great brands never have to give back, as they never “take” in the first place. These brands go beyond just simple CSR; instead, they build the brand around shared value for each and every stakeholder, not because it’s an obligation, but because they want to.
Becoming a Data-Hungry Brand
At first glance, basketball and foodservice may seem like they have little in common. But Daryl Morey, general manager of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, said this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, both industries are ultimately trying to deliver “wins,” and each uses data and objective analysis to do so.
Morey stressed the idea that companies should make decisions based on real data, evidence, and research to determine risk and success probabilities, whether it’s to launch a new product, develop a new marketing platform, or hire a new team member. Morey said data helps brands and companies test hypotheses in order to minimize risk, though he noted that competitive dynamics and new products are areas in which it’s harder to use a high level of analytical data.
Customer Service Leadership
It’s easy to narrow down Michael Bergdahl’s No. 1 business philosophy: Customer service must always be top of mind. To enforce this, Bergdahl, former director of people for Walmart, said restaurants should remember the customer is boss and everything an employee or manager does must relate back to the idea of helping improve customer service. If they don’t, he said, consumers can fire you on the spot, sending their loyalty and business elsewhere. One way Bergdahl said brands can cater to customers is by empowering their employees to directly serve guests, as the people closest to the customers are the most important people in your business. He said encouraging employees to think like business owners and take ownership of the business will result in improved customer service.
The Evolution of Shake Shack
What started as a hot dog stand in New York City’s Madison Square Park in the mid-2000s has grown into a booming burger brand that no one—not even CEO Randy Garutti—ever expected. Garutti said it’s the brand’s commitment to bringing an authentic, unique experience in everything from store design and site selection to community involvement and high-quality, natural products that has attributed to Shake Shack’s unbelievable success. Another key to excellence: its unwavering focus on employees. Garutti said Shake Shack offers a true career option for its employees and motivates them through initiatives like its bonus program, where it splits 1 percent of its monthly profits among the staff. It also builds a strong culture of team support, based on the idea that if it takes care of its staff, the staff will take care of the guests, community, suppliers, and shareholders.
Your Market, Your Critics, Your Brand Panel
Obesity has become an epidemic in the U.S. that quick-service operators cannot ignore. More than one out of three adults and one out of six kids today is obese, and the majority of the population in every state is now at least overweight. Panelists speaking on how brands can balance consumer demand with the push for healthier alternatives—including Doug Pendergast, president and CEO of the Krystal Company; Greg Allison, senior director of global brands and innovation for Famous Brands International; and Maeve Webster, a director with Datassential—said operators must pay attention to what their customers want out of the brand and make the quality of the food highest priority.
Meanwhile, operators should also track how much customers are ordering healthier alternatives. For Pendergast and Allison, this practice showed that customers are not ordering better-for-you options as often as critics would suggest; Pendergast said salads account for less than 1 percent of sales at Krystal. But the panelists agreed this shouldn’t lead operators to ignore the healthy eating trend.
Because the panelists represented smaller brands, it was noted that government and other critics haven’t proved to be too much of a pressure on the companies. However, pressure is being applied to major brands like McDonald’s and Burger King, and the panelists said it’s important to follow those brands’ lead in the healthy eating movement.