I just came back from the 2018 Foodservice Equipment & Design Global Thought Leadership Summit in Chicago.

As FE&S Publisher Maureen Slocum put it, the event was 32 hours of intense insight and experience sharing, along with networking with great people in our industry.

The event left me so energized and I could not wait to share with you some of the highlights of the FED Summit. Here are some of my observations and take-aways from the roster of fantastic speakers.

RON02833David Portalatin of the NPD Group addresses FED Summit attendees.

It all started with an industry review. Being an industrial engineer that works in the foodservice industry, I love numbers, and David Portalatin of the NPD Group did not disappoint. Portalatin did a good job explaining why restaurants continue to struggle to drive consumer traffic. Conclusion: Millennials are the heavy restaurant users, but they do not visit these operations as much as the prior generation did when they were the same age. Consumers today definitely eat more meals at home, which clearly impacts customer traffic and restaurant design. Does that mean restaurants should provide dinner or other meals as a solution to help time starved customers? That was a thought floated during the conference and one worth pondering.

Restaurant Evolution

The evolving restaurant experience was a common topic throughout the conference. To remain successful, today’s operators need to do more than serve good food in a good atmosphere. Operators that create impactful restaurant brands make an emotional connection with their customers by facilitating leading-edge hospitality. So, how can operations create such an experience during a time when apps, kiosks and employees of third-party delivery companies are becoming the face of the restaurant that consumers see most? Balancing the benefits of technology with the need to deliver hospitality will be a big challenge for operators from all industry segments.

RON03460Steve Starr of starrdesign told the FED Summit audience that sometimes customers want to engage with technology and sometimes they don’t.You have to understand that it is a “both-and” world with guests, Steve Starr of starrdesign told the audience. Sometimes customers want to engage with technology and sometimes they don’t. The winners will be those operators that figure out how to apply technology that enhances the human interaction. The challenge is to figure out how to not sacrifice one for the other.

RON02972Angelo Mojica of Johns Hopkins Health System spoke about the importance of being authentic in foodservice.

While everything continues to change throughout the industry, one core element remains constant: the food has to be good and authentic. “It’s important to say we are going to be authentic or we are not going to do it at all,” said Angelo Mojica of Johns Hopkins Health System. But differentiating involves more than being authentic. In order to engage customers, and ultimately grow the business, foodservice operators can identify opportunities in their markets by developing menu items and concepts that nobody else is doing, he added.

Moving Forward

And that thought leads us to another key idea: the importance of making the design/build process collaborative. As Tobin Ellis pointed out, giving everyone a role in the process will lead to better and more efficient operations that can focus on facilitating great customer experience.

Automation is a topic that remains on the minds of many in today’s foodservice industry. And presentations by Gennadiy Goldenshteyn from Welbilt reminded us that automation is already here, albeit not as widespread as many would have predicted years ago. Moving forward, though, unit economics of the foodservice business will ultimately drive more automation of foodservice functions and perhaps even the use of robotics. One big challenge is understanding how to apply automation and what to share with guests without compromising their experience.

On the equipment front, the industry now has the opportunity to collect more mission critical information from its equipment through the right communication, suggested Markus Glueck from RATIONAL. This can help better address food safety concerns, manage equipment uptime and other benefits. The information is already there. The key moving forward is to apply it to become more proactive after installing a piece of equipment.

Other topics included the importance to start with the right staff to drive a great customer experience, and also creating the right culture to make this happen, including the value of getting involved in the community.

A gathering like this exemplifies a couple of our industry’s key attributes: inclusiveness and willingness of our industry brethren to share in our own experiences. A key message of the conference is that we are stronger together than we are by ourselves. When we group our individual expertise, it gets multiplied, not just added; perhaps it is more like exponential valuation, instead of just a multiplication.  If you did not get the last mathematical comparison I was trying to make, don’t worry, just humor me; I am an industrial engineer after all.

In closing, I want to suggest that if you have the opportunity to attend the next FED Summit that will take place in two years, make it happen. It is well worth it to find 32 hours in your very busy schedule.

If this article teased you some, don’t despair.  You can get more information and watch videos of all the presentations at fedthoughtleadership.com.