Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Random thoughts I

Courtesy of some pinot noir, here are some random jottings about the restaurant industry as it laps the start of the ongoing economic meltdown.

Earlier this week I moderated an online brainstorming session, telecast as a webinar, on how restaurant chains can contend with the times. Among the nuggets of information:
  • Some restaurant operators, perhaps for the first time in their careers, are contending with the frustration of putting their very blood into operations and still failing to goose sales. It’s demoralizing, observed Kat Cole, VP of HR for Hooters, but macro-economics can trump the best efforts. Indeed, she noted, many in the business are working harder than they ever have before. She encouraged our audience to focus on successes within their organization and their own four walls, and to keep employees motivated by providing plenty of recognition.

  • The restaurant industry’s equivalent of hell is operating in Michigan, several speakers suggested. They cited that market as the epitome of an economy turned glacier-cold.

  • Social media has arrived as a recruitment tool, a way of conversing with guests, and a means of communicating with employees and field-level managers.

  • The times have ushered a collaborative, open management style into chain headquarters. Several speakers noted how essential it is to have all stakeholders apprised of what’s happening in the business and how it should adapt to conditions. Steve Grover, vice president of cost and product management for Steak n’ Shake, said he has regular meetings with the VPs of various departments to discuss what they’re doing and what results they’re getting. Hooter’s Cole says she confers with her counterpart in operations about every 10 minutes.

You’ll soon be able to hear the whole webinar—the Smart Business Decisions Roundtable—for yourself via the website of the presenter, Nation’s Restaurant News. It was sponsored by Kronos, which is also presenting two similar thinktanks in the near future. A panel discussion focusing on human resources will be held on Nov. 5. The spotlight turns to finance and IT on Dec. 3.

I'm moderating all three. In line with the FTC's new disclosure regulations, I'm obliged to let you know that I'm getting paid for shouldering that task. But I would've posted these observations even if I was just a civilian listener.

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