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6 head-spinning moments from the NRA Show for non-attendees

Don’t take our word that you missed a chance to get much smarter about the restaurant business if you sat out this year’s National Restaurant Association Show. Here are some head-turning utterances that underscore what a battery recharge it was for restaurateurs who arrived in Chicago feeling short on ideas, adrift amid a changing world and badly in need of a motivation re-up. Rue missing words like these:

1. For your motivation file:

“We can’t be 100 percent better than all of our competitors, but we can sure as heck try to be 1 percent better than each of them,” said Russ Bendel, CEO of The Habit fast-casual burger chain.

2. For the if-you’re-curious file:

If you’ve ever wondered when things really start to change in the lifecycle of a restaurant concept, 30-year veteran Tony De Salvo had an answer. “When the first round of people who helped you start the company leave,” said De Salvo, whose company operates the upstart John Barleycorn and Moe’s Cantina concepts, “the changes are exponential.”

3. Also for that file, under the tough-love tab:

“Whenever you bring [expansion] money in, that money tends to have an opinion,” quipped Candice Klein, an attorney who now serves as chief strategy officer for Dealstruck, a company that capitalizes restaurant companies striving to push past the entrepreneurial stage. “They will likely bring in their own management team members to see you succeed.”

4. For the what-if file:

With so much private-equity money chasing deals today, might one of the larger firms try to buy McDonald’s while the chain is still in its depressed state? Roark Capital has purchased such sizeable franchisors as Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s and Arby’s, but don’t expect it or any other private-equity firm to have its head turned by the Golden Arches, or at least not while the giant is in its current state, said Roark principal Geoff Hill.  “McDonald’s would have to make a lot of changes to bring in private equity money,” said Hill. He and other members on a finance panel looked at what type of companies attract equity, and the world’s largest restaurant chain just didn’t meet the criteria.

5. For the why-I-hate-The-Food-Network file, cross-filed in the importance-of-training sleeve: 

Mark Brever, COO of multi-concept operator Heisler Hospitality, was asked how many of a typical 100 customers know as much about one of his restaurants’ new menu items as the waiters do. Braver’s response: “Ninety.” Heisler operates such celebrated restaurants as Trencherman, Bar DeVille, Lone Wolf and the The Revel Room.

6. For the questions-on-tech file:

“When we are looking at adapting new technology, the very first thing we ask ourselves is, ‘Does this technology allow us to spend more time with our guests?’” said Braver.

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