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HotSchedules Spark 2018: Reigniting your Restaurant Brand through Innovation

The 2018 edition of HotSchedules’ Spark conference featured insights and best practices from the restaurant industry’s top brands.

Success in today’s restaurant industry requires a new way of thinking about things, a willingness to push the envelope. That’s why more than 230 industry leaders and innovators gathered in Austin, TX, for the 2018 edition of Spark, a conference by HotSchedules.

For two days, representatives from 70 different restaurant brands met to disrupt the status quo and explore ways to thrive in an increasingly competitive and chaotic operating environment.

The conference was packed with insights from great thinkers like global restaurant consultant Aaron Allen, Fred LeFranc of Results Thru Strategy and Chris Simms, CEO and Founder of Lazy Dog Restaurant and Bar, as well as breakout sessions with our 12 amazing sponsors!

We could go on all day about all of the things we learned at Spark 2018, but let’s try to boil it down to our three big takeaways:

The Power in Partnerships

Many of the sessions throughout the conference highlighted how strong partnerships can help restaurants champion new technology innovations throughout a brand.

The conference kicked off with insights from the first three customers to sign on for Clarifi, the intelligent restaurant operating platform by HotSchedules. The panel included Logan’s Roadhouse CIO John Laporte, True Food Kitchen’s VP of IT Val King and Noodles & Company’s VP of IT Dave Lehn, who spoke to the importance of establishing technology partners to push your brand forward.

In a time when restaurants are experiencing flat sales and the struggle to manage tech bloat keeps getting bigger, the panelists agreed that finding the right technology partners to help optimize productivity and control costs was a must.

“We can’t overstate how important it is to give our managers tools with automation and planning capabilities,” Lehn said.

Enabling Business Success Through Visibility

New technologies also afford valuable visibility across a broad spectrum of departments and functions — from food and labor compliance to employee engagement and career pathing.

HotSchedules VP of Sales Solutions Mary Hamill and a panel of data-driven HotSchedules experts discussed new ways in which restaurants can think about food safety. Hamill said businesses need to start approaching food safety proactively, taking every step possible to prevent outbreaks.

“It’s too difficult to recover and there is too much competition,” she stressed. “You can’t be known as a place that gets people sick.”

It became clear that technology solutions which enable visibility from the top down will ensure success. Whether it’s being able to track the temperature of your product throughout its journey to your store or knowing exactly who has completed their training, it’s important to leverage today’s technologies to establish and adopt global standards.

Restaurants should also establish standards around how to communicate career paths to both current and prospective employees, as we learned during an enlightening panel on employee engagement hosted by Fred LeFranc.

“If they’re a server in the restaurant and want to learn how to be a trainer, you want to lay all of that out and say, ‘Okay, here’s what it takes, here’s what you need to do, and here’s what we can offer you to get you to that path,’” said Bill Streitberger, Chief People Officer at Logan’s Roadhouse.

Establishing Culture to Boost Employee Engagement

Such openness with employees goes a long way towards ensuring that your team members become stewards of your brand. With the industry’s notoriously high turnover and the lowest unemployment rate since the 1960s, experts agreed that restaurants need to do everything they can to engage their workers.

“The governor for growth is the ability to attract, develop and retain great leadership,” LeFranc said.

And in order to do that, you need to get employees invested in your restaurant’s culture from the first day they set foot in your store.

“The most important day of an employee’s career is Day One,” said Gini Quiroz, Director of Team Member Engagement at K&N Management. “Bring employees in the right way by creating an exceptional onboarding experience that focuses on culture.”

You can’t create an exceptional orientation program without core values for your brand so that everyone throughout the organization understands what the brand stands for.

It’s an approach that Chris Simms has taken at his thriving Lazy Dog Restaurant and Bar concept, which he explained in more detail during his closing keynote. Simms has baked his brand’s core values into every aspect of the business, reimagining the casual dining experience for the modern guest.

“In order to be successful in the restaurant industry, you have to treat your team members with trust and respect,” Simms said. “We clearly define our principals for our employees so there is no doubt on any given day.”

If you weren’t able to make it to Spark this year, don’t worry! We’re already planning for next year’s conference, and we promise it’s one you definitely won’t want to miss — that’s because next year, we’re celebrating our 20th anniversary of serving the hospitality industry! A huge thank you to everyone who made this possible, and stay tuned for more takeaways from Spark 2018, as well as information about next year’s 20th Anniversary extravaganza!

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