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5 Restaurant Industry Conference Lessons: The Evolution of Restaurants + How to Handle an Image Crisis

Lunch at the Restaurant Industry Conference

Celia SoudryLunch at the Restaurant Industry Conference

In Taco Bell CEO Greg Creed's keynote address at yesterday's 17th Annual UCLA Extension Restaurant Industry Conference, he shared with a peer group of executives, restaurateurs and suppliers how the chain approaches food as an experience -- as opposed to simply fuel. And if you've seen any of their commercials lately, you'll get what he means when he joked that Doritos Locos is for his kids and Cantina Bell is for his wife.

Three hundred-plus restaurant industry insiders -- quite a few were local -- attended the conference to exchange ideas on this year's theme "Brand Relevance & Evolution" at UCLA's Covel Commons. Lemonade's Alan Jackson and Umami Burger's Adam Fleischman were among the panelists. In no particular order, we picked up a few industry lessons. Turn the page.

5. You might want to delete that free flashlight app on your smartphone. According to Mark Wayne of ANXeBusiness, free apps may contain malware that can lift private information, like your bank account details. It was how a sizable chunk of his daughter's student loans for medical school were stolen.

4. Retail is not about the sell but the tell. As expressed by co-CEO of Whole Foods Walter Robb, longevity in the industry comes from building culture within the company and in the market. This includes giving employees strong incentives to stay motivated and incorporating customer feedback. For Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen's menu development, keeping true to their spokes-character "Annie the Chicken Queen" is key -- which probably means they're less likely to sell fried chicken pizzas.

3. Food TV is valuable. On menu development, Alex Benes of Wood BBQ & Grill found food television has produced increased consumer awareness, which has been beneficial to the introduction of elements like Santa Maria-style barbecue. Creed includes food shows as one factor that led to an industry transition in the late '90s.

2. When it comes to image crisis management, get the facts straight first and then address the issue head-on. According to Michael Sitrick, CEO of Sitrick and Company, a cover-up is almost always worse than the crime. Sitrick led Food Lion in its image turnaround after ABC News accused the grocery chain of alleged unsanitary practices and labor law violations.

1. There is rarely a metric for food safety, as opposed to profitability and food cost in the industry. David Theno ran down a short list of business checkpoints; few raised their hands when asked about a food safety quotient. "Food safety is as important as anything else, because you lead your business with it," says the CEO and founder of Gray Dog Partners, who helped Jack In the Box implement safety measures after an e.coli outbreak at the chain in 1993.

And in related news:

- Q & A With Fatburger CEO Andy Wiederhorn: Undercover Boss + Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

- Smallknot: New Website Aims to Help Fund Locally Owned Restaurants

- Behind the Kitchen Door: ROC-LA Report Reveals Restaurant Industry Inequality


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Covel Commons
miles

200 De Neve Drive
Westwood, CA 90024