From the RB editor: Seeking inspiration in outside places

It’s a new year, yet we enter it heavy with the baggage from 2017. Jan. 1 does not magically lift the problems the restaurant industry has been facing, wiping the slate clean. Casual dining is still a segment potentially on the brink. Delivery remains a necessary puzzle to be solved, full of outside profit-grabbing partners and logistical woes. And labor remains the top challenge for at least half of operators, according to the National Restaurant Association.

In spite of the many conundrums restaurateurs are up against, many I’ve spoken with aren’t stressed or fearful; they’re excited. Operating in a business-as-usual manner is out the window. With the rapid speed at which things change, thanks to social media, tech developments and more, restaurant brands—and their leaders—are being challenged not just to act quickly but to actually be ahead of the trends. 

It’s a daunting task: identifying and acting on ideas that haven’t actually hit restaurants yet. Still, the trendsetting leaders I’ve spoken with have something in common—they follow companies outside the restaurant industry for inspiration. 

After all, consumers aren’t living their lives in a restaurant vacuum; they see and use other industries as well. You know who else sees other industries? Your employees. So it makes sense to look where else they are also looking, too, extracting ideas that might translate to restaurant operations.

Admittedly, I was a little overwhelmed for you, thinking about narrowing down the giant universe of companies into a list of brands to follow and explore more. But the curiosity led to this month’s feature. We wanted to know who the execs atop some of the most watched restaurant brands watch. So, we asked.

I was surprised. Not that the responses ranged from Apple to Zappos. But that these leaders follow brands for such a wide range of reasons. Some are turning to culture champions to help shape their employee relations. Others follow e-commerce giants to better understand consumer behavior. And then there are those inspired by retail companies that convey a brand image that goes beyond what they sell. With each operator’s response, though, there was a clear reason for watching each brand—something actionable they were taking away.

We want to know who you’re watching. If there are companies or other thought leaders you follow for inspiration that we didn’t mention, shoot me an email at swirth@winsightmedia.com.

Speaking of inspiration, check out the new look of the back page of Restaurant Business. Each month, The Big Idea will give you a peek inside an innovation or development that’s made a splash in the industry.

Ideas on leadership

Operators we talked to named author John C. Maxwell as an inspiration on leadership. Here’s a glimpse of what Maxwell says:

“Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.” 

“Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course. Leaders who are good navigators are capable of taking their people just about anywhere.”

“The challenge of leadership is to create change and facilitate growth.”

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