Last week, a few members of the xtraCHEF had the opportunity to travel to Denver for the MUFSO Conference hosted by Nation’s Restaurant News. The annual gathering, set to take place at the Denver Sheraton for the next three years, brings together leaders from multi-unit foodservice operators (thus, MUFSO) to connect, advance partnerships and learn from one another’s best practices and cutting-edge innovations.

Below are some of our take-aways from some of the sessions, keynotes, and events…

MUFSO Conference 2019

MUFSO Conference 2019 Golden Chain Award CEO Panel

Tuesday morning kicked off with an inspiring and informative conversation consisting of CEOs from the Golden Chain Award-winning chains.

Participants included:

  • Sam Fox, founder of Fox Restaurant Concepts (recently acquired by the Cheesecake Factory)
  • Julie Masino, Taco Bell U.S. president
  • Tim McEnery, CEO and founder of Cooper’s Hawk
  • Scott Svenson, co-founder of MOD Pizza
  • Liz Smith, executive chairman of Bloomin’ Brands

The session was moderated by Alice Elliot, NRN’s 2019 Norman Award honoree (more on that below). Alice set the stage of the conversation by recognizing the award winners and their ability to excel in an economic climate consisting of consumers who want on demand everything, healthful and indulgent menu options at the same time as well as workforce practices that have direct impacts to Profit & Loss Statements across the industry.

Here are some of the quotes from the Award-winning CEO Panel:

On the balance of data-driven analysis and good ol-fashioned hospitality:

“Analytics is an enabler to making the customer experience of hospitality better but doesn’t replace the customer experience.”

Hospitality is a blend of art and science, head and heart. We try to err toward art and heart.”

“If you lead with analytics, you’re going down the wrong path. You have to lead with the heart and soul of your restaurant.” – Sam Fox, CEO of Fox Restaurant Concepts

“It’s all about people at the end of the day. Technology is an enabler of scale and being able to make it easier to work at Taco Bell to better serve our customers, then that’s what’s important to us.” – Julie Masino, Taco Bell U.S. president

On the Cheesecake Factory acquisition:

“We are both founder-led companies and shared aligned values. They (Cheesecake Factory) had made investments in some of the Fox concepts, including Flower Child. We started to ‘date’ and as Fox was looking to become a national platform, we needed a partner to help us do that.

To go from 10-20 to 100+, it requires different infrastructure.

But it’s business as usual for us, nothing much has changed.” – Sam Fox, Founder of Fox Restaurant Concepts

On preparing your business for a downturn:

Stick to the essentials. And make sure you get them right.” – Tim McEnery, CEO and Founder of Cooper’s Hawk

Make sure your balance sheet is in order. Play offense when others are playing defense.” – Scott Svenson, co-founder of MOD Pizza

Be careful not to resort to price to easily relieve pressure.” – Sam Fox

“The economy is cyclical. I’m less pessimistic. Strengthen your relationship with your customers and differentiate your experience. Know your brand value. In a downturn, there will be a bifurcation of winners and losers. That puts you in a position to come out even stronger.” – Liz Smith

MUFSO Conference 2019 Keynote Speaker, Gary Vaynerchuk

Whether you follow Gary Vee (as he’s known by his fans) or not, hearing him speak you quickly realize that he’s got something to say. Below are a few take-aways from Gary Vee’s keynote session…

On the cost of doing business for restaurants

Please understand that the internet is only 25 years old and has only now hit scale in the way that consumers consume. The internet eliminates the middle man and the middle woman. The COGS (Cost of Goods Sold) for a retailer make it difficult to compete in today’s internet-driven consumer economy.

On the importance of building a brand

In a decade, brand will be the only thing that matters aside from the quality of your product. Act like a media company – engage your audience and produce content at scale.

On the rise of ghost kitchens

Ghost kitchens is going to be real bad for this room. You have to outbrand. You also have to be smart about your cost of goods. These new competitors are going to take the money that you’re putting into building, facility, staff and training, and put it into building brands and building market share.

On how to be competitive

Look at your P&L. Find out where you can save and put it into brand. You also have to invest in reasons for the diner to dine out: Convenience, Experience & Programming.

People want to go out. People are hiking now more than ever. These people don’t want to hike they just want the photo. Think about the Instagrammable opportunities in your restaurant.

2019 MUFSO Conference Hot Concepts Award

The Hot Concepts Awards recognize emerging growth concepts and are chosen by the editors of Nation’s Restaurant News. The selection criteria include:

  • Must have opened their first restaurant unit less than 7 years prior to award recognition
  • Have a minimum of 3 restaurant units in different market areas or a minimum of 5 units in one market area
  • solid financials

We were pleased to see that one of our customers, &pizza, was recognized as a Hot Concept Award. Congrats to Michael Lastoria and the team at &pizza.

(Quick side note: Michael Lastoria shared that 20% of &pizza employees have the &pizza logo tattooed on their bodies!)

2019 Norman Award Honoree: Alice Elliot, CEO, The Elliot Group

Each year, Nation’s Restaurant News presents an industry executive who consistently mentors and inspires future restaurant industry leaders with the Norman Award. The Norman Award honors the late restaurant pioneer, Norman Brinker, who founded Brinker International Inc. Norman Brinker was an American restaurateur responsible for the creation of restaurant business concepts, such as the salad bar (!). He served as president of Jack in the Box, founded Steak and Ale, and helped establish Bennigan’s.

This year’s recipient was Alice Elliot, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Elliot Group. For nearly thirty-five years, The Elliot Group has delivered talent solutions and advisory services to the restaurant and hospitalities industries. They have since expanded to include retail, lifestyle brands, and service sector.

Below is a link to a video of Alice, a deserving Norman Awardee, presenting Norman Brinker with the “Elliot Mentor Award” in 2005:

Looking to find the xtraCHEF team on the road?

Check out some of the restaurant industry conferences that we’ll be attending next.