After roughly 48 hours at the restaurant industry’s Restaurant Leadership Conference brain summit, a few unexpected trends are clearly emerging:
--We’re heading back into a deal-o-rama environment. Much of my networking time has been spent fielding questions from would-be buyers of restaurant chains. The criteria for acquisitions vary widely, but there are some similarities: A solid concept with an entrepreneur at the helm who needs the foundation to blast out new stores. Curiously, part of the new pitch from buyers is their ability to provide operational expertise as well as money and infrastructure.
--The restaurant-trucks phenomenon is still on the upswing. Sally Smith, chairman of the National Restaurant Association, called it the trend of 2011. That observation is echoed by the constant mention of trucks in sessions dealing with far-afield topics.
--Similarly, mentions of social media crept into discussions of all sorts of issues, including the political scene. Rick Berman, the Doberman of restaurant lobbying, noted how Facebook has become a battleground for advocacy issues affecting the industry. He noted that The Left seems to have the edge over The Right in wielding the internet as an opinion shaper.
--Restaurateurs have a great sense of humor. My favorite comment so far, offered at the end of a sessions on mobile marketing: “We’ve come a long way since the Sullivan nod was the cutting edge of marketing.