Dine America 2011: A Great Industry Gathering

Industry pros came together to inspire and enlighten

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Dine America 2011 has concluded! Kudos to the organizing team for putting on such a great show.

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We had the opportunity to be one of the sponsors for this conference for restaurant leaders that took place Oct. 9-11 in Atlanta. It was an action-packed couple of days, with learning and networking opportunities at every turn. I was able to walk away with a few key lessons from a number of speakers and want to share them with you in this post.

The tone for the session was upbeat, with all attendees — restaurant operators and suppliers alike — feeling good about how their businesses are progressing and optimistic that the business climate will get even better.

Keynote speaker Kat Cole, president and CEO of Cinnabon, a Roark Capital Brand, kicked things off on an inspirational note by discussing the career path she's traveled and sharing some great insights to her success. Two of Cole's many wonderful points that resonated with me were, "don't just show up, but step up and speak up" and "no borders, no boundaries."

Also on the agenda was Stew Leonard, CEO and president of Stew Leonard's Farm Fresh Foods. Leonard discussed his company's strategic approach of "fresh today , do it again tomorrow" and encouraged us to speak of a quality mindset.

Leonard also discussed his company's two legendary rules for customer service: First rule being the customer is always right and the second rule being that when the customer is wrong, refer to the first rule. While being customer-centric is important, Leonard cautioned us that "you cannot have a great place to shop, until you have a great place to work." Indeed, designing a team-member focused culture requires both intangible and tangible or ergonomic principles.

A presentation done by a speaker from Google provided us with an interesting view on what is coming in the future. If you have not heard about Google Wallet, I encourage you to take time to look into this. Wow! One of their messages was "Be found, be local, be creative, be integrated and be social."

Gregg Lederman from Brand Integrity suggested that when examining customer service, a concern to every business today, start by assessing how behaviors are being executed on both sides of the transaction. Make sure the employees know what to do, how to do it and why they are doing it. This is the best way to drive employee engagement. Just telling foodservice staff that the customers are "guests" is not sufficient to make sure that they are treated as such. In sharing his success stories, David Davoudpour, Shoney's chairman and CEO, focused on three key principles: simplicity, innovation and giving back to the community.

In between each speaker there was plenty of time to interface with the attendees and share with them new concepts from the sponsors. Here is one example that generated some interesting conversations: a computer simulation of a restaurant with a drive-thru.

Congratulations to the Dine America team, for setting up such a dynamic session, with many great messages from the speakers and panelists as well as innovative products from several vendors.

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