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Elevating the Retail Experience

Of all the questions FM readers ask, the one that seems most perennial is, "Why are customers willing to pay more for a meal on the street than they would in my cafe?"

The answer of course is both obvious and immensely frustrating. Simply put, customers make such choices based on perceived value, whether they do so consciously or unconsciously. Two sandwiches may be identical for all intents and purposes, but the service, selection and dining experience that accompanies them is perceived differently.

I have written about this "Value Gap" many times before and about ways our readers can seek to narrow it. The strategies range from menu development to signage, merchandising techniques to line staff training, cafe and interior design to promotions and station concept development.

This month, I am very pleased to tell you that these are the issues Food Management will be exploring at our 2007 IDEAS Conference. With the theme, Elevating the Retail Experience, we'll be looking at the many ways our readers can enhance the dining experience of their customers, building repeat business, customer loyalty and participation in the process.

We've changed the date and location from past years—it will be held at the new Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas on October 30-November 1—but we haven't changed our objectives. High among these is to offer our readers a segmentwide forum at which they can exchange ideas, learn about new concepts and trends and develop the ability of staff to make their cafes a high-value destination for customers.

We'll have expert presentations on the key elements that control the retail experience diners have: how to manage the visual presentation of food, the perception of value, the social and experiential context in which dining occurs. Other speakers will address the ways commercial chain restaurants address these issues and how some of their techniques can be adapted to the onsite environment.

Our attendees will learn techniques for better merchandising, gain operational insights into successful noncommercial concepts, and explore strategies for engaging the customer's senses to create lasting, positive impressions that will drive repeat business.

Noncommercial operators have special challenges that go beyond the need to appeal to their cafe customers—they also must manage the perceptions that their administrations and clients have of their work.

A part of our program will emphasize techniques that can help directors obtain the financial and management support they need to embark on major retail initiatives, whether these involve funding for renovations, negotiating for high traffic kiosk locations or simply getting "buy in" for high priority projects.

We'll also look at strategies for client retention. Client retention is always a concern for contract-managed operations, but its principles are just as important for self-ops who need to learn to see their administrations and institutions the way management companies do.

Finally, the conference will include our traditional Best Concepts Awards Banquet, where we will recognize our 2007 Best Concepts Competition winners and present this year's trophies to them.

You will hear more about Food Management's IDEAS Conference, specifics of the program and how to get more information and register for it in coming months. For now, we'd just like you to mark the dates on your calendar: October 30 – Nov. 1, 2007.

If you're looking for some great value-adding strategies and ideas, plan on joining us. I look forward to seeing you in Las Vegas!

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