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A panel of Best Concept Award winners
A panel of Best Concept Award winners: (l. to r.) John Dickman of Google, Inc., Solange Morrissette of Sodexho, Reginia Phillips of the University of North Texas, Dexter Hancock of DCH Regional Medical Ctr., Sidney Gonsoulin of the University of Southern Mississippi and Holly Hart of Chartwells High Education.

How do you elevate the retail experience in onsite foodservice environments? A slew of ideas and suggestions were offered at the 2007 Food Management IDEAS Conference, held at the end of October at the sparkling Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas.

The event drew a diverse audience of attendees from all segments of the onsite foodservice community, who got to hear a slate of dynamic presentations, both from their peers—discussing successful real-world initiatives—and from speakers offering valuable strategic advice and trend information.

Perhaps just as crucially, attendees got plenty of chances to mingle and network, not only with peers from their own segments, but with operators from other onsite segments with whom they could share best practices and cross-segment ideas.

One highlight of the conference was the annual FM Best Concepts Awards Banquet, at which each of the winners in attendance was presented with an award trophy. FM Chief Editor John Lawn also briefly highlighted the accomplishment that made each Best Concept recipient a winner, adding emphasis to the conference’s “Ideas” theme.

“The intent behind our awards program is both to highlight innovative initiatives in our market segments and to give FM readers ideas they might wish to consider in their own operations,” Lawn noted. The IDEAS Conference followed sister publication Restaurant Hospitality magazine’s Concepts of Tomorrow conference at the same venue, giving attendees of both events a chance to take in a highly informative “two-fer” in professional development while also enjoying Las Vegas.

Eight Tips to Better Retail Merchandising

Account Development Manager Nancy Lane of the Hubert Co. outlined IDEAS attendees some specific merchandising tips for use in their retail operations. They are...

1. Raid the back room. Shipping and storiage containers can be cleaned and sanitized and used a sdisplay props.
2. Zone out! Look at the different serving zones. They should be distinct enough visually that they are easy to find, yet work together to complement each other.
3. Snap a photo.
You may think you are seeing the big picture when you look at your display, but you’ve probably missed something. Pictures do not lie!
4. Sampling isn’t an expense, but an investment.
Customers purchase items they have smapled over 60% of the time. It’s a fantastic way to introduce new menu items.
5. Make dining a sense-ual experience.
Involve as man senses as possible. Aromas, sounds, tastes, feelings and visual images all combine to provide the customer with a lasting impression.
6. Take a hike.
Walk in the front door and view your presentation as the customer sees it. Do you like what you see? What would you think if you were in a competitor’s operation?
7. Eliminate the questions.
Products should be placed and displayed in a way that customers have all their questions answered.
8. Offer suggestions.
Pair complementary products together, such as a sandwich and salad or fruit.

Michele SchmalFM Publisher Gerald White
(l.) Michele Schmal of NPD Group discusses industry trends at the pre-conference session; (r.) FM Publisher Gerald White addressing the conference
John Dickman receives the Best of Show from FM Editor John Lawn
John Dickman (l.) of Google, Inc., receives the Best of Show from FM Editor John Lawn
Boston College’s Helen Weschler
Boston College’s Helen Weschler discusses the genesis of the “Chocolate Bar” on campus
Aramark’s Dan Muenzberg and Ron Bennet
Aramark’s Dan Muenzberg (l.) and Ron Bennet talk about the design aspects of retail branding.
Mary Kesor of Maine Medical Center.
Mary Kesor of Maine Medical Ctr. talked about redesigning retail menus to encourage healthy eating.
Harvard Dining’s Jim DeZutter
Harvard Dining’s Jim DeZutter discussed how to raise the bar on retail dining operations.

A Hot Warm-Up
Onsite attendees also had the chance to hear a pre-conference session at which Michele Schmal of NPD Group’s CREST data service reviewed trends in consumer behavior in both commercial and noncommercial foodservice environments.

She noted both the differences and commonalities in the commercial and onsite spheres, including the ways economic factors impacted meal purchasing behavior, industry growth drivers and “winning channels,” those segments of the industry that have gained in customer satisfaction over the past year. In the noncommercial sector, secondary schools, lodging and higher education (excluding vending) were the leaders.

The hottest foods in onsite segments are breakfast items, salty snacks and main dish salads, while bottled water and milk have posted the greatest servings increase among beverages, Schmal noted.

“There likely is underdeveloped opportunity with coffee—specialty coffees in particular—as these beverages have fared well in the commercial sector, particularly with women,” she added. “They provide a means to build traffic between main meal hours of the day.”

Elevating the Retail Experience
“Happy holiday!” joked FM Group Publisher Jess Grossberg, acknowledging the opening of the conference on October 31st. Grossberg also noted that IDEAS was now being held in Las Vegas as a response to consensus attendee wishes expressed on comment cards at last year’s IDEAS conference.

The first day’s opening speaker was Bill Marvin, “the Restaurant Doctor” who outlined some of his prescriptions for elevating the performance of retail foodservice.

Marvin, a former dining director at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and the author of numerous books and seminars on improving foodservice operations, drew on real-life experience for his maxims, which generally involve a change in thinking.

“The reason things don’t change is because your thinking doesn’t change,” he declared. “You have the organization you have because it makes sense to you!”

The conference also featured a series of case studies from onsite operators that explored the practical execution of retail enhancement strategies.

Harvard University Dining’s business development director, Jim DeZutter, explained how Dining Services developed its Queen’s Head Pub, positioning it as “student-planned and student-run.”

Two representatives of an organization with a considerable commitment to the design and merchandising of branded environments—Ron Bennet and Dan Muenzberg of Aramark’s in-house Innnovative Dining Solutions group—explored their holistic approach to the process. “Remember, everything is branded,” Bennet said. “The brand experience needs to evolve as its customers evolve.”

Of course, one of the challenges of managing a retail environment is satisfying the sometimes contradictory needs of the host institution or client, and of the end-user customer.

Veteran executive George Maciag addressed this topic, focusing on those aspects where the needs of the two coincide. Maciag made several key points about unique aspects of fooodservice that make the client/customer dichotomy even more difficult. One is that in foodservice, customers are often engaged in the production process (as in “put some more cheese on that”), an interactivity that makes foodservice unique in that the same employees are often engaged in both production and sales.

Lessons From Successful Operators
Another retail challenge that has been especially resonant these days is balancing fiscal responsibilities with a philosophic imperative to promote healthy eating. Mary Keysor, who had considerable success with this approach at Maine Medical Center, spoke about how she was able to make healthful changes “without creating a special nutrition program.”

One of her most successful and cost-effective initiatives: the deployment of merchandising carts. They were placed in the facility’s highest traffic areas and doubled the department’s fresh fruit sales.

Tom McDermottgave
Consultant Tom McDermottgave an overview of trends in management contracts.
Nancy Lane of Hubert Co
Nancy Lane of Hubert Co. gave a talk and led a hands-on workshop focused on better merchandising techniques
Chris Wolf of Turover Straus Group
Chris Wolf of Turover Straus Group gave an overview of foodservice menu and market trends
Former Guckenheimer President/COO George Maciag
Former Guckenheimer President/COO George Maciag discussed how to serve the two masters: the organization and the customer.
Paul Hysen
Paul Hysen on selling the value of a facility upgrade or new construction.
John Gamble
Second-day Keynote speaker John Gamble talked about how to inspire client and administrative confidence.
Bill Marvin
Keynoter Bill Marvin, the “restaurant doctor,” offered a prescription for curing the competition blues in your retail operations.

Helen Wechsler of Boston College discussed the development and operation of the campus’s highly successful (and 2006 Best Concept Award-winning) Chocolate Bar, which took over a severely underutilized space and, with a minimal renovation investment, now generates up to 650 covers a day with a $3.85 check average.

Wrapping up the first day’s sessions was a cross-segment panel of 2007 Best Concept Award winners moderated by Lawn that explored the many issues related to planning and executing successful onsite retail concepts.

The panel discussed such issues as how to generate and nurture ideas in an organization, how to “sell” ideas to higher-ups and how to manage concept development in a way that maximizes impact in terms of the performance of the department.

Trends and Innovations
The second day of IDEAS kicked off with consultant John Gamble keynoting on the topic of inspiring client and administrative confidence. In particular, he explored techniques for managing expectations and matching them to results.

Another speaker, Tom McDermott, followed with a talk on trends in management contracts and RFPs.

Consultant Paul Hysen followed with a presentation on how to more effectively sell the value of capital projects to administrators. A key point: find the “materiality threshold,” which is the amount of projected revenue gain expected from the project that becomes compelling to the institution. “That’s when you get their attention.”

Chris Wolf of Turover Straus Group then followed with an entertaining and informative review of significant recent trends in the foodservice world, primarily from commercial restaurant chains, with emphasis on concepts that onsite operators can adapt.

Hubert Co.’s Nancy Lane wrapped things up with a talk on merchandising strategies onsite operators can employ with minimal cost. She and representatives from Hubert then led a hands-on workshop involved an elaborate set of support materials that allowed participants to construct solutions to a range of sample problems posed by Lane.

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