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Big 'huh?' from the NRA Show: 'Are we in the right place?'
Regular attendees of the National Restaurant Association’s annual convention could be forgiven for wondering if they’d descended on Chicago’s McCormick Place during the wrong week this year. How else to explain all the talk about products and management strategies that would’ve been dismissed a year or two ago as decidedly on the fringe?
According to the samplers hanging in your finer Mongolian yurts, “If the herring stings when slapped across your face, don’t suggest a flounder.” Actually, I made that up, but you can almost see the scale marks on the faces of fast-food executives these days, so there’s some license to be taken. Besides, all of them should be dispatched to Mongolia if they go ahead with what they’re considering.
Back in our schoolyard days, the most effective bully was the early bloomer who used his physical advantages for ill. In the arenas where most of us play today, a head-thumper’s might is more likely a function of money than muscle. Just look at what’s happening at Tim Hortons, a concept that could teach McDonald’s a thing or two about market dominance, at least in Timmy’s homeland of Canada.
A hot new concept typically fosters considerable talk among restaurateurs scouting for the next big thing—i.e., virtually anyone in the business. But internet communications promise to change the dynamic, just as social media and other forms of digital connection have altered the speed and tone of the consumer grapevine. You no longer need to keep an ear to the ground at industry events; a mouse in hand seems to work much better.
It’s a little-known rule of physics: Put a group of restaurant leaders in a room and you’ll get an unvarnished picture of the business. Pull almost 1,800 of them together, as we did at the Restaurant Leadership Conference, and you quickly learn what they see as the opportunities and challenges, the hype and the real successes.
Imagine if the course of food trends was reversed and home kitchens suddenly became the source of the best and most interesting culinary ideas. In that alternate reality, restaurants would be the followers, not the innovators, hoping to catch up with customers who were routinely more inventive and advanced.