Saturday, June 11, 2011

Some of what I learned at Summer Camp

People Report’s Summer Camp made my two weeks at Boy Scout camp seem like a wasted piece of 1968. All I learned back then was how to smoke, spit and talk like someone who had sex four or five times a week—with a partner.

I took home a lot more from the past week’s version of camp. Consider, for instance, these info nuggets from Dallas:

*Red Robin has been using E-Verify, the controversial network for validating job applicant’s legal hiring status, for three years. The ramp-up was tough, but the company would never think of going back, said Bill Streitburger, vice president of human resources for the chain. “We had two state audits” and “there was no problem,” he recounted. Recruitment is a little more expensive because referrals from staffers have thinned, but wages haven’t risen as some critics had predicted, said Streitburger.

*The National Restaurant Association intends to raise the number of high schoolers enrolled in its ProStart foodservice prep program to 300,000 in any given year. The 90,000 currently participating get an early grounding in the culinary arts or foodservice management, typically before moving to an institution like the Culinary Institute or Johnson & Wales. It’s like a farm system for tomorrow’s restaurant talent—and as much loved by the kids as it is by the industry.

*Firehouse Subs is testing the use of QR codes as a tabletop marketing tool. Diners-in customers can use their smart phones to scan the little black-and-white markings. They’re instantly connected to information about the concept.

*Taco Bell, in contrast, is using the codes as a way of connecting to prospective employees. Potential job applicants who scan the markings call up a video on their phones about what it’s like to work at the chain.

*Also beginning at Firehouse is a bus tour for the fast-casual concept’s co-founders and CEO. The brass is rolling from unit to unit as a way of meeting as many crewmembers as they can, explained director of brand marketing Kristen Majdanics. She characterized the tour as a way of bringing the brand to the frontlines of customer interaction.

*The dark side of social media is the friction it can foster with labor regulators. As several speakers noted, a restaurant employee might cap a bad day on the job by slamming his restaurant employer via Facebook or Twitter. That’s the employee’s Twitter account or Facebook page, not the restaurant’s. If the place fires the youngster for sounding off, is it within its rights? It’s a matter that’s already come to the attention of the National Labor Relations Board.

*Remember the name James Fripp. He’s currently the young senior director of diversity and inclusion for Yum! Brands. During his time onstage at Summer Camp, Fripp showed an insight, knowledge and astute humor that makes me think he’ll be a superstar in the business before he ever has to even consider Grecian Formula. He did a pretty good job on the drums, too, wailing away as part of the Summer Camp band.

*The husband of Kelli Valade, Chili’s chief operating officer, frequently sits at Wally Doolin’s old desk. Yep, you read that right. But he’s not imagining that Wally’s job as CEO of Black Box Intelligence is really his. Joni Doolin gave Valade the desk years ago because the latter had no furniture after moving out of Roz Mallet’s home, where she’d lived for free in exchange for watering the plants. That’s Roz Mallet, as in incoming chairman of the National Restaurant Association. Valade revealed that she’d kept the desk all these years and that it now resides in her husband’s study. I’m not sure what any of this means, but it’s not the usual tidbit you get at a conference.

*Meanwhile, Valade’s son is showing clear restaurant-CEO potential, though he’s still in grade school. As the COO recounted, the boy recently informed her, “I’m having a service problem with the school cafeteria. Could you help me with that since that’s what you do?” And, of course, he stands to inherit a veteran CEO’s desk.

*Eighty-three percent of the generation known as Millennials sleep with their cell phones. See earlier observation, about interesting but not-so-useful morsels.

*Peanut-butter-and-bacon sandwiches are not going to be the next big menu craze, despite how nostalgic certain Campers waxed for that lunchtime flashback to their childhood camp days.

They might’ve been the ones sneaking out to smoke and spit, too.

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