by Chef Magazine staff

Last month, the editors of Chef spent four jam-packed days at the 91st annual National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show at Chicago's McCormick Place. Between all the press events, education sessions, special events and demonstrations, they caught their breath long enough to reflect a bit on their favorite moments from the show. Read on to see what caught their attention this year.

Cruising the show floor in the North Hall*

A worthy cause is worth your while
From fixing the childhood obesity problem to aiding the cleanup on the Gulf Coast, there is no shortage of charitable opportunities for foodservice businesses to get involved in. Philanthropy and cause marketing are excellent tools for restaurants to build awareness and drive traffic, all the while doing some greater good in the community--and it's easier than you think to get started. That was the message at the "Winning Share of Heart: Strategies for Building a Cause Marketing Campaign," which was moderated by Paula Berezin, president and chief strategist of Chicago-based Social Capital Partnerships, on Saturday, May 22. Berezin first outlined the four main points in a successful cause marketing campaign before opening up the discussion with the panelists:
  • Authentic brand fit--A restaurateur should choose partnerships carefully that align with the restaurant's brand and image, as well as the issues that are of most concern to the employees and guests.
  • Engage consumers--Stay relevant, and get creative with your calls to action to engage your guests. Think volunteer, advocate, donate. Have simple and tangible ways for consumers to get involved (i.e., $1 from the meal goes to planting one tree).
  • Engage stakeholders--The people who work for you can accelerate the cause. Get your employees involved (and excited), and oftentimes the rest happens organically.
  • Stick with it--Be consistent, and dedicate your resources to furthering your chosen cause. Keep it fresh so guests and employees don't get bored with it.
The panel consisted of Diana Hovey, senior vice president of marketing for Dallas-based Corner Bakery; Brian Foye, senior vice president of operators for Orlando, Fla.-based Capital Grille; Ray Blanchette, CEO of Houston-based Ignite Restaurant Group (Joe's Crab Shack); and Mindy Segal, executive pastry chef/owner of HotChocolate in Chicago.

Hovey of Corner Bakery suggested launching a new product in conjunction with a cause. Getting employee input on that new product will get them pumped about it--and ultimately aid in the upsell. She said the thing that surprised her the most was that once the charity program was started, employees started asking what more they could do. In some stores, employees started a friendly competition of who could sell the most of the charity-donation product.

It's all about E.D.G.E., explained Capital Grille's Foye--exceptionally distinctive guest experiences. You have an opportunity to connect with a guest, so how will you accomplish it? Cause marketing is one of those E.D.G.E. tools. Guests will want to participate in the causes they care about. He says stick with your charity, but amend your concept year to year. You don't have to spend a lot, and often you can do things for free through volunteering. And when employees feel like their workplace has values, they tend to be more loyal and stay with you long-term.

Show your employees and guests your core values, said Blanchette of Joe's Crab Shack, don't just put them in a mission statement. Get group participation in the cause by designing a shirt with a catchy phrase that employees can wear and customers can purchase. He also suggested building team unity by, for instance, doing a day of volunteering at a food bank before going to the holiday office party rather than scheduling the volunteering for a different day. You'll get better participation--and can you imagine the tone that would set for the party?

Segal of HotChocolate addressed being an independent operator and how to get her small restaurant's employees behind a cause she believes in. Chefs are asked to participate in so many charity events, she thought that she could make an impact if she focused on one cause--as a chef ambassador for Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation (Ed. note: Segal wrote about it in Chef Magazine's February 2010 issue, which you can read here). She is trying to create a movement by enlisting not just her employees but also her friends and chefs in the industry to get involved in the cause. It's amazing, Segal said, the opportunities that present themselves when you connect with others who want to be involved.

--Lacey Griebeler, managing editor

This year, I was able to duck into several fascinating education sessions throughout the show, which covered timely issues from social media and rooftop gardening to seafood traceability and donating surplus food for tax savings. It was encouraging to see considerable audience participation, which also brought about the most lively and informative discussion. Here I've gathered a few soundbites from some of the most compelling sessions I attended:

"Get Butts in Seats for Free with Word of Mouth & Social Media," Saturday, May 22
"Social media is a conversation; it goes both ways. It's about engaging people and making them part of the community. ... You want to actually talk to them."
--Geoff Alexander, vice president and managing partner, Wow Bao--Lettuce Entertain You, Chicago
(l to r) Andy Sernovitz, GasPedal; Geoff Alexander, Wow Bao--Lettuce Entertain You; Charlie Howard, Gold Star Chili; and Ramon DeLeon, a Domino's Pizza franchisee*
"We had to take a leap of faith and give out every location of every chili parlor [in Cincinnati]. This is chili democracy."
--Charlie Howard, vice president, director of marketing and chilimeister, Gold Star Chili, Cincinnati, on launching the microsite, a word-of-mouth campaign to play off Cincinnati pride in its chili and get the city officially recognized as Chilitown, USA

"Plant a Garden and Harvest Profits," Sunday, May 23
"There's something very priceless about the way a community is connected to the restaurant [with a rooftop garden]. It's a lovely way of creating income--we can grow a lot of food in a small space."
--Helen Cameron, owner, Uncommon Ground restaurant, Chicago, which received well over $500,000 in TIFF funds and grants to help build the country's first certified organic rooftop farm at the restaurant
"It's about making a connection with the earth, and nourishing yourself and others. The thing that surprised us at Bastille the most was the amount of press we got."
--Deming Maclise, owner, Bastille Café & Bar, Seattle, on installing the restaurant's 4,500-square-foot rooftop garden with help from Colin McCrate of Seattle Urban Farm Co. before they opened last year

"Seafood Traceability and What It Means to You," Tuesday, May 25
"All supply chains already have internal traceability systems in place, and they could connect each of those to a standard interface. As of right now, Trace Tracker and Trace Register are the only tracking systems [of seafood traceability]. The IT end of it is easy. But the market isn't mature yet--there's still a lot of land grabbing. But eventually there will be a single traceability portal."
--Andy Furner, vice president, Trace Register, in response to a question about whether a single seafood traceability standard will be implemented

"Turn Surplus Food into Tax Savings to End Hunger," Tuesday, May 25
"To give you a sense of the scale [of the hunger problem in central Florida], five years ago, we served food to 298,000 individuals. In 2009, we served almost 732,000, which is about 25 percent of the population."
--Dave Krepcho, CEO and president, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, on the growing need for high-quality food sources to feed the hungry in Florida and elsewhere in the U.S.
"At Darden, organizational buy-in [for donating surplus food] was initially very tough. We're a big company, so everything new you implement is a big deal. But now, each concept owns it and manages it. We have people on staff becoming huge supporters--they do it in their restaurant, and then they even take their teams to spend time volunteering at Second Harvest."
--Anthony Walker, vice president of corporate tax for Darden Restaurants, on getting individuals at every level of the company to support donating surplus food to food banks (since 2003-2004, Darden has donated between 33 and 34 million pounds of food and saved billions of dollars in tax money)

--Maggie Shea, assistant editor

*Photos courtesy of the National Restaurant Association

What did you learn at this year's NRA Show? Tell us about it in the comments section.
Integrated marketing communications agency Greater Works! Inc. hosted a global cuisine breakfast for the press, in collaboration with commodity boards, chef ambassadors and brand manufacturers, on May 23 during the 2010 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, at the Drake Hotel, Chicago. Among the highlights were:

GreaterWorks! created the Multi-Cultural Cuisine event as an opportunity for foodservice manufacturers and commodity board representatives to engage the press and showcase new products and their applications. Those interested in having their products featured at next year's event can contact