The National Restaurant Association (NRA) launched the the third annual NRA Show Hot Chef Challenge 2010 this week, inviting professional chefs to submit a video to of themselves preparing their favorite recipe using fresh produce.

YouTube users will rate the video submission to select the top three finalists, from which one will be chosen as the winner by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson. The winner will travel to Chicago to showcase his or her winning recipe and cook alongside Samuelsson at the 2010 NRA Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show’s World Culinary Showcase on May 22 at McCormick Place. The winner will also receive accommodations for three days and two nights at the Affinia Hotel Chicago and a special dinner with wine pairings at Samuelsson's Chicago restaurant C-House.

Interested chefs and cooks should submit an original video demonstrating their recipe at or by April 29. Videos should be no longer than two minutes and recipes must include at least one fresh produce item, plus any other ingredients of their choice.
Contributed by Dave Mischler, Inner Circle Chicago

It is no secret that 2009 was tough for a lot of restaurant owners. However, 2010 is setting up to be a year of growth for many businesses, and there is no reason your restaurant cannot be a part of that. There are some straightforward but important steps that you can take to help reinvigorate your business' performance and get it on track to achieve your long-term goals.

Clarify your direction
Initially, it is critical to clearly understand where your business is headed. Look at your current situation with a fresh set of eyes and then establish goals for where you would like it to be. Do not be constrained by what you think is likely to happen. Consider what you want, what you really want, first.

Of course, every owner wants to become successful and build a profitable business. But this year, start with realistic, "stretch" goals. For example, you might consider making it a goal to take more time to analyze metrics for efficiency opportunities or hold more regular staff meetings. Push yourself just a little, and then break your goals down into pieces while designating milestones to measure progress.

Create accountability
Once you have decided upon your goals, it is crucial to build in accountability for yourself. How will you ensure that these things will happen? What systems, processes or people are you going to put in place to drive them to completion? If you are not willing to put such checks and balances on your own actions, re-examine your goals. Without true accountability you may be setting yourself up for mediocre results. However, if you are able to create these assurances with meaningful deadlines, you have taken an important step to improving your business.

Open up
When you run a restaurant, it is easy to get stuck by yourself at the top. With no one to talk to about the business, your own blind spots, knowledge gaps and shortcomings can get in the way of success. Let's face it, nobody does everything well. The problem is many owners prefer not to rely on others--they have an urge to try to do it all.

Open yourself to accepting help. First, while it might not seem to make sense right away, consider hiring to fill the roles that take you away from performing the most critical functions. Owners often do not take this step and lose out on the opportunity to serve their own "highest and best use." But doing so might be another significant step to building your business.

Second, look for support organizations in your area. Peer-to-peer advisory groups are a great way to harness the experiences of other business owners who are facing the same problems. Groups like this can offer you the opportunity to identify solutions to your business problems while at the same time strengthening your skills as an owner and the leader of your company.

Third, if you already have the staff to support some of this effort, move past fears of delegating. Putting trust in someone else with the vital elements of running your company is a critical rite of passage for building a business. Thus, if you truly want growth, this step is necessary and unavoidable. Doing so will afford you the time to lead the initiatives that really drive success and stop turning you into the choke point to progress.

Monitor your work/life balance
Running your own business is complex, and the strain it puts on your personal life can be counterproductive for the business in the long run. All too often, business owners become so consumed by their businesses that they forget to enjoy important events and everyday moments in their personal lives.

Letting life pass you by can have a huge impact how you run your business. An unhappy business owner has greater difficulties becoming a successful business owner because a person's mental outlook can negatively or positively affect how everything else falls into place.

This year, take some time to examine your business life and your personal life to identify those areas that are not working as well as you would like. Understand that sometimes you need to let go of control, trust in others and, most importantly, trust in yourself. Also, be mindful of your stress levels. Just because you own a business does not mean you need to be there 24 hours a day.

Get excited about your business again
The fact of the matter is that 2009 was among the most challenging times restaurants have ever seen. But, you have weathered the storm and you can take pride in that accomplishment. To capitalize on that in 2010, get yourself excited about the business again. Consider the possibilities and let yourself dream just a bit. Remember the energy and enthusiasm you had when you first started your restaurant, then re-inject that vigor into your business today.
With just the right kind of extra effort, you can make 2010 your best year ever.

Dave Mischler, president of Inner Circle Chicago, is managing director and facilitator for several Inner Circle Chicago groups. His unique background in topics from accounting to marketing and business development has enabled him to gain both a broad and deep perspective on business challenges. To learn more about Inner Circle Chicago, visit