Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Live from MUFSO, Day Two

This is being written live from the Washington, D.C., ballroom where some 600 chain-restaurant leaders have gathered for their annual download of ideas, insights and connections. For the complete thread of what's happening at MUFSO, read from the bottom up.

Tues., 11:20
The panelists' advice to a young person who wants to evolve into a leader:

"Find someone who can mentor you and work with you closely."--Wingstop's Flynn

"Pay attention to detail."--BJ's Deitchle

"Be a teacher."--Kenneth Pondery, CEO of First Watch

"Hire good people, listen to them, be very clear about what you want them to do, and respect them."--Puzder

"In order to grow your business, you have to grow yourself. Study constantly. Read books. Go to seminars. Look at every aspect of your business. Master your craft by developing yourself."--Joseph Tortorice, presidet, Jason's Deli.

"Take a risk."--Greg Creed.


Tues., 11:06
Is there a disconnect with reality here? As someone just asked from the audience, how can the heads of six major chains say they're not worried about the economy, as the panelists have repeatedly professed?

Given that food is not a luxury, there's no need to be on suicide watch, one of the panelists explained. "If I was selling Mercedes-Benz, if I was selling jewelry, I'd be worried," said CKE's Puzder. "But I'm selling fast food. If that soccer mom stops coming into Carl's Jr. for a burger, then our economy would be in worse shape than I thought."

Greg Creed, president of Taco Bell: "You can't go to a supermarket and get the ingredients and make it yourself for what we charge."

Puzder again: "We think next year will be a good year for this industry and a good year for us."

Doherty: "I don't know about the audience, but I'm surprised there's not much gloom and doom up here. There's just some problems that have to be worked through."

Tues., 9:40
Andrew Puzder, CEO of Carl's Jr. and Hardee's parent CKE Restaurants: "Our margins have improved for each of the last four quarters." But, he acknowledged, "Our margins are certainly not what they were in 2006." One of those statements was not a surprise.

Puzder recounted how CKE's purchase of Hardee's "crippled" the company, driving its stock price down to $2 from the low 40s. He was the general counsel for the company at the time, and the problem was apparently tossed onto his lap. Under his leadership, the company's concepts are now outpacing most of their competitors.

Puzder just noted how one official of CKE has just instituted a rule that new hires in his area be able to speak English, an unimaginable requirement in the tighter labor market of a year ago. That policy was also mentioned by a panelist yesterday, for the same reason. The greater availability of English-speaking hourly talent seems to be an overlooked silver lining of the current economic storm.

Tues., 9:32
Jim Doherty, Nation's Restaurant News' group publisher and moderator of the Presidents' Panel, has just asked the five CEOs on the panel about how much time they spend in their chains' units. The lowest figure was 20 percent of the time; the highest, 50 percent of the time.

Tues., 9:27
Flynn has just recounted a few details of working at Popeyes when the concept's eccentric founder, Al Copeland, was still involved. He noted that he tries to be at his desk by 5:30 a.m. Copeland would routinely roll into the office at 3 or 4 p.m., Flynn explained.

Copeland, who died a few months ago, has come up a number of times in conversations here at MUFSO. One of the more interesting mentions was a ghost story starring Al. It seems that some AFC veterans went to Copeland's funeral, where a priest recounted how Al traveled through Europe toward the end of his life, looking for a cure of the rare cancer that had afflicted him. Among the stops was Lourdes, a major shrine in the Catholic faith because the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared there. A priest accompanying Copeland said he looked over at one point and saw a woman kneeling by Al's wheelchair. When he looked back, the woman was gone.

The caravan-for-a-cure continued on to Germany, where Copeland visited another place that was known as a site for miracles. The priest saw the same woman again, kneeling once again by Copeland's wheelchair. Once again she disappeared.

Tues., 10:22
Bingo: Jim Flynn, CEO of Wingstop, just noted that he's a graduate of the Naval Academy. He made reference to serving on submarines. Flynn was asked if he knew John McCain, since their attendance of Annapolis apparently overlapped. Flynn drew a laugh by divulging that McCain had a reputation of being an avid hazer and hellraiser.

Tues., 10:12
The Presidents' Panel, traditonally one of the true high points of MUFSO, has just begun. This year's panel includes Jerry Deitchle, CEO of BJ's, who just mentioned something that's often overlooked when industry veterans talk about what makes a successful chain CEO. Deitchle, like so many of his peers, spent some time in the military. It's a common trait of industry leaders, whether we're talking about Norman Brinker, Joe Lee, Roland Smith of Arby's or Jim Skinner of McDonald's.


Tues., 9:30
A gem from Jim Sullivan: "Look, it's no secret today that things are tougher than a woodpecker's lips."


Tues., 9:20
An interesting statistical tidbit from the presentation of the Spirit Awards, an honor bestowed on outstanding foodservice employers: The average turnover of hourly employees within fine dining is 102 percent. Morton's, the winner for that segment, has brought down its churn to 39 percent.

Tues., 8:40
Motivational speaker Marcus Buckingham is on the stage. Having seen Marcus before, I'm not feeling motivated, though he's clearly resonating with the crowd. But perhaps this affords an opportunity to present two informational gems from yesterday's sessions. Both came from Kent Rathbun, chef-owner of the Jasper's high-end restaurant chain. The concept had been chosen by NRN's editors as one of the year's hottest concepts.

During a panel of those concepts' operators, Rathbun noted in passing that Jasper's had cultivated a nice little niche business with private-jet catering. Its home base of Dallas, he explained, is surrounded by small airports that serve the executive traveler who has her or her own plane. As he noted, the downturn really hasn't put much of a crimp in their spending. Rathbun said he reaches out to the personnel at the airports, who are often asked by the jets' passengers and crews about where they could get a good meal. Jasper's has taken steps to make sure it's the concept that's named.

Rathbun also offered some insights into music, a key component of ambience that's often overlooked by the style addicts who notice things like color patterns or staff uniforms. Rathbun acknowledged that the element is important enough to merit his personal attention to the selections that play. His strategy is drafting four distinct lists--one each for lunch, dinner, after 8 p.m. and after 10 p.m. Each list steps up the intensity of the music both in volume and tempo, he explained. The energy-building process has been successful enough to prompt requests by patrons for the playlists.

Tues., 8:15 a.m.
The day is starting with a presentation from the National Restaurant Association about its revamp, the result of a strategic study that was expected to cost the organization in the neighborhood of $1 million. The plan calls for updating the association by focusing on four key areas. For a quick rundown, check out our story from this week's issue of Nation's Restaurant News. Link to it here.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous steakman said...

Given that food is not a luxury, there's no need to be on suicide watch, one of the panelists explained. "If I was selling Mercedes-Benz, if I was selling jewelry, I'd be worried," said CKE's Puzder. "But I'm selling fast food. If that soccer mom stops coming into Carl's Jr. for a burger, then our economy would be in worse shape than I thought."

Greg Creed, president of Taco Bell: "You can't go to a supermarket and get the ingredients and make it yourself for what we charge."

Puzder again: "We think next year will be a good year for this industry and a good year for us."

Keep Drinking the Kool-Aid, Boys. Just look at the comments the idiots in congress were making two years ago about Fannie and Freddie.

Food is not a luxury, but there is a choice. What if that soccer mom decides to go to a grocery chain for her meals? You can't go to a supermarket and get the ingredients and make it yourself for what we charge." That's a tag line to remember. How about, "Nobody serves crap cheaper than us."
"If I was selling Mercedes-Benz, if I was selling jewelry, I'd be worried," How about, "If I were selling houses I would be worried" or "If my customers lived in houses, I would be worried" or 'If my customers became unemployed because of the credit crunch, then I would be worried". Oh wait, that is happening.

What was the theme song playing during the panel? Send in the clowns?

sincerely, Steakman

October 14, 2008 at 11:21 AM  

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