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NRA Announces Operator Innovations Awards Finalists

Winners to be revealed at NRA Show 2012

An independent panel of judges has selected the finalists for the National Restaurant Association's inaugural Operator Innovations Awards. Three finalists in each of five categories — Sustainability, Technology, Food Safety, Health & Nutrition, and Menu Development — will attend NRA's 2012 Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, May 5-8 in Chicago. The NRA will announce the winners in each category, plus an Innovator of the Year selected from all finalists, on May 5.

The 2012 Operator Innovations Awards finalists for Sustainability are:

  • Evelyn Hill, Inc. (Liberty Island) —While serving five million visitors to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, its operator, Evelyn Hill, Inc., has applied continuous innovations since 2000 that reduced waste and conserved water and energy. Their new LEED Platinum-certified pavilion recycles or composts 94 percent of its waste.
  • Starbucks Coffee —Recycling of single-serve coated cups was extremely limited until Starbucks engaged all components of the value chain to begin making recycling practical and profitable. The company's goal is that all of its cups, and all of the foodservice industry's polycoated paper cups, will be recyclable by 2015.
  • Uncommon Ground — Uncommon Ground installed the country's first certified organic rooftop farm at its Edgewater location in Chicago in 2008 and is preparing to add a second to its location in the Wrigleyville neighborhood. Both four-star certified green restaurants offer urban agriculture internships focused on farming, beekeeping and sustainable food systems.

The finalists in the area of Technology are:

  • HMS Host (Airport Terminals) — Travelers at airport terminals can now order and pay for meals from select locations using airport restaurateur HMSHost's free mobile app, B4 YOU BOARD.
  • SMART Restaurant Group (Which Wich) — To address training/operational needs determined through guest surveys, SMART Restaurant Group has created an integrated technology solution featuring training videos that can be accessed through QR codes at appropriate workstations for employees and managers in their Which Wich locations. Smart phones are used to connect through the QR codes and offer 30-60 second "refresher" videos to improve performance.
  • Stacked Restaurants, LLC (California Casual) — Stacked Restaurants is a full-service concept which utilizes an iPad-based ordering system, enabling guests to control when they order and when they pay, and to customize their meal in a comfortable, uninhibited way.

The finalists in the area of Food Safety are:

  • Colorado Springs School District 11 — This public-school system adapted and implemented the "Allerschool" system, designed to identify individual food ingredients, including all types of allergens in school menu items.
  • Sodexo North America — This onsite management firm obtained ISO 22000:2005 Food Safety Management System certification for its operations in the United States and Canada.
  • Waffle House — This restaurant chain, in partnership with state health departments, developed a comprehensive business continuity plan featuring tight food safety protocols to ensure speedy and safe reopening after natural disasters.

The finalists in the area of Health and Nutrition are:

  • Chartwells Higher Education Dining Services — "Balance U" is Chartwells' nationwide program developed to educate and encourage students to eat healthier. It includes gluten-free recipes, menus and labeling, and a strong education component for students and employees alike.
  • Sodexo School Services — Targeting the finicky tween demographic, Sodexo transforms dining areas into extensions of the classroom to educate students on healthier eating with the goal of instilling lifelong healthy eating habits.
  • UCSF Medical Center — This academic medical center takes an integrated approach to incorporating nutrition information, education and marketing in its restaurant settings.

The finalists in the area of Menu Development are:

  • Sodexo School Services (Future Chefs) — The annual Future Chefs National Competition challenges students to create and prepare healthy recipes in local competitions.
  • The Cheesecake Factory, Inc. — One of the early innovators in the space of smaller portions, Cheesecake Factory took the creative lead to develop a whole new array of stylized culinary creations that counter balanced the large portions for which it is well known.
  • UNC Healthcare (Chapel Hill) —Each day, UNC's 800 patients can order from a 20-page menu with greater than 80 entrée selections and have the 13 distinct restaurant choices delivered to their room. Patients experience greater variety at a lower labor cost than that of traditional hospital food service.