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CHICAGO – The keynote speaker at the National Restaurant Association (NRA) 2014 Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show had a single piece of advice for foodservice operators at all levels: "You have to have a winning attitude and mindset if you're going to win in the restaurant world," Earvin "Magic" Johnson said during his Sunday speech.
Johnson learned this lesson through his experience in the business world, as well as through his days in the National Basketball Association. As "the most powerful African-American businessman in the world" and "a true philanthropist," according to NRA Chairman Ken Conrad, Johnson's business portfolio includes the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Sparks sports teams; foodservice and facilities management company SodexoMAGIC; and Magic Airport Holdings, a partnership with Hudson News that operates airport concessions at Los Angeles International Airport.
"I've been defying the odds for a long time," Johnson said as he traced his journey from childhood through his basketball career and beyond.
After retiring from sports, he focused on bringing jobs and brand-name businesses to underserved communities and has done so through his philanthropic organization, the Magic Johnson Foundation, and his own business ventures. As a business owner, Johnson said he found success by being willing to do any job, even the small or dirty ones, in order to learn the business and show employees the kind of commitment to strive for.
Additionally, he advised NRA Show attendees to truly understand their market and not rely on conventional wisdom that might not be helpful. "Always know your customer. That's very important," he said. "Then, you've got to speak to that customer each and every day."
Owners should reinvest in their business and not be quick to take money out of it when it starts making a profit, Johnson cautioned. He also warned against business moves that would dilute a brand. "Your brand is everything, so protect your brand at all costs," he stated.
Other best practices Johnson discussed were to continuously train employees, be willing to turn down opportunities if you won't be able to deliver on them, and give back to the community. "I think you can do good and do well at the same time," he concluded.
GETTING AN EDUCATION
The first two days of the NRA Show, which kicked off May 17, also featured multiple educational sessions on a variety of topics.
In the "Menu Labeling: Are You Ready?" session, panelists discussed the Food and Drug Administration's proposed rules on menu labeling and the impending final regulations, which are expected within a few months. NRA Vice President of Government Relations Dan Roehl presented a simplified breakdown of what to expect, while culinary dietitian Rachel Rothman stressed the importance of providing factual nutritional information under the new regulations.
"Your guests will expect your restaurant to offer accurate nutrition information," Rothman said. The five key components of making sure such information is available are:
- Using accurate recipes
- Using an expert, qualified analyst
- Using an accurate database
- Keeping a trained staff
- Practicing long-term maintenance
Some possible consumer reactions to the menu labeling changes were discussed by Cheryl Dolven, senior director of health and wellness for Darden Restaurants. While some consumers dislike labeled calorie counts and other information because they "just don't want us to ruin their good time," others will act upon such information in the short or long term, according to Dolven.
After the regulations go into effect, foodservice operators should also expect political volatility regarding menu labeling, more reporting on the "worst offenders" on menus, and more reporting that questions the accuracy of calorie counts on menus, Dolven said.
Meanwhile, the viability of convenience stores and other non-traditional restaurants as foodservice providers was highlighted during the session, "The Grocerants Are Eating Your Lunch: How Grocery Stores, C-Stores, Drug Stores and Home Delivery Are Taking Away Market Share."
In today's changing food marketplace, all operators have to be aware and active, the panelists said.
"Be afraid, be very afraid," remarked Bill Cross, session moderator and vice president of restaurant & food brand licensing at Broad Street Licensing Group. "As a restaurant, you don’t just compete with other restaurants in your category -– you compete with everybody who sells food."
Mike Sherlock, vice president of fresh food and beverage at Wawa Inc., shared the Mid-Atlantic-based convenience store chain's path to becoming a foodservice powerhouse. He noted that c-stores and restaurants have more in common than some might realize, comparing the turnover of a parking space at c-stores to the turnover of a table at restaurants.
Speed and efficiency are vital to Wawa's performance, Sherlock explained. "We love the customers, but we love the customers three to five minutes at a time," he noted.
Along with keeping your brand fresh through reinvestments and upgrades, Sherlock said foodservice operators must create an environment that represents their brand. In Wawa's case, an open floor plan, digital signage and a glass front that entices drivers into the store has become part of a shopping experience that offers personalization, value, and fast, friendly, clean and fresh service.
The 2014 NRA Show, held in conjunction with the International Wine, Spirits & Beer Event, continues through May 20 at Chicago's McCormick Place convention center.