9 ideas to steal from the NRA Show

1. Keep a “cemetery portfolio.”

Just because an idea doesn’t wow you the first time doesn’t mean it needs to die. One R&D chef mentioned that he compiles what he calls a “cemetery portfolio,” a repository of new menu items and LTOs that didn’t work at the time. He revisits these items from time to time to see if the idea now may be the right fit for the brand or the menu.

2. Follow the 8-minute rule in onboarding.

During a panel on hiring and training millennials, Donna Herbel, lead director of training and development for Memphis, Tennessee-based Perkins & Marie Callender’s reiterated her “8-minute rule.” Given young people’s penchant for technology, convenience and speed (read: short-attention span), if training materials can’t take a worker from information to action in less than 8 minutes, chunk them out differently.

3. Small operation? Hire a hybrid.

Startups scaling for growth should consider placing a COO-CFO hybrid in the c-suite as their first big hire. “Neither is a full-time job when you have five units,” but both roles are important when expansion is in the cards, said Candace Klein, chief strategy officer for Dealstruck, a company that funds small restaurant operations looking to expand.

4. Build a test kitchen in your office.

Granted, this idea may not be feasible for most operators. But Chris Doody, CEO of Piada Italian Street Food and founder of the Bravo Brio Restaurant Group said that when he was developing the concept for the Piada chain, he spent half a million bucks to design his office with a test kitchen in mind. Then he tested the ideas for the concept, 35 people at a time on up to 700 people. “It was a huge investment,” Doody admitted. “But I didn’t want to get laughed out of town.” When the time came to grow Piada, his first-hand research helped. “We were able to build stores two through six very quickly,” he said.

5. Think about your space at night.

While lunch is the biggest traffic time for most fast-casual restaurants, Roti Mediterranean Grill is aiming for evening, too. But that doesn’t necessarily mean changing the menu, said Roti CEO Carl Segal during a panel discussion at the Technomic Fast Casual Trends & Directions conference before the NRA Show. “[Roti] eats as well at dinner as at lunch,” Segal said. So instead, the brand is getting more creative with the environment of the dining area for nighttime traffic—adjusting the lighting, making sure seating is comfortable and changing the type of music. The food and ordering process remains the same, but the experience shifts.

6. Re-examine upcharges.

Many operators still use the cost-plus analysis method for menu pricing, but during a panel on big data, Justin Massa, founder of Chicago researcher Food Genius, suggested thinking of a value-based pricing strategy instead. Don’t price against cost to you, he warned. Instead, price against perceived value, and there will be more room for upcharging.

7. Consider the ‘photographability’ of delivered food.

Another nugget from the big-data panel shared by Massa and a tech expert from GrubHub: Remember, consumers aren’t only photographing their food perfectly plated in-restaurant. With delivery on the rise, don’t overlook the appearance of your food after it’s traveled. It may have a different look once it’s packaged and has traveled to a home.

8. Use iPads to customize cocktail orders.

While much of the buzz around iPads is centered on customers placing food orders, David Jones, CEO and co-founder of the Blazing Onion fast-casual burger chain sees potential in cocktails, too, which he’s currently testing. “There are different ways to do it,” he told one of our reporters after a “Lessons from Leaders” panel at the NRA Show. “I can go in and pick my liquor, and then let me choose from a martini, a cocktail, straight up or neat … If I go to martini, neat or rocks, it asks if I want a double. Everything is [what] a customer can actually get and understand. They don’t have to build it from total scratch,” Jones said.

9. Speed craft beer turnover with the cloud.

At the newly opened Pub Royale in Chicago, the beer list is projected electronically on the wall via the cloud, allowing the beverage manager to update it in-house and on the restaurant’s website in real time, said Mark Braver, chief operating officer of Heisler Hospitality, owner of the concept. “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,” he explained during a panel on how tech is changing the customer experience. “If I put an iPad in a guest’s hands at the table, it’s basically taking away that human interaction at the table talking with them. Projecting the draft list was a way to bridge that gap.”

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


Beverage chains are taking off as consumers shift their drink preferences

The Bottom Line: Some of the fastest-growing chains in the U.S. push drinks, even as sales at traditional concepts lag in growing delivery and takeout business. How can traditional restaurants get in on the action?


Brands need to think creatively as the industry heads into a value war

The Bottom Line: Giving customers meal options they can afford will be key to generating traffic this year. But make sure those offers can generate a profit.


The Red Lobster bankruptcy is a seminal moment for the restaurant business

The Bottom Line: The seafood chain’s bankruptcy declaration was not surprising after months of closures and Endless Shrimp recriminations. But that doesn’t make it any less notable.


More from our partners