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Editor’s Letter

Keep Your Eye On The Ball

This magazine recently held its Concepts of Tomorrow Conference and I came back invigorated. Not just because the conference was a success, but because the crowd at the sold-out event was downright enthusiastic.

That’s saying a lot these days. It’s not easy staying upbeat at a time when the world appears to be coming apart at the seams and your customers are in less than a celebratory mood. The threat of war, terrorism, mad snipers, a schizophrenic stock market, rising unemployment (somebody stop me) have a way of doing that to a population.

Yet, the conference was filled with positive people who have hope for tomorrow. Of course, a conference named Concepts of Tomorrow should attract that sort of crowd, but one has to wonder if this attitude amounts to whistling in the dark.

According to consultant Ron Paul, who spoke at the conference, a lot of industry folks have plenty of reasons to whistle for joy. Paul’s company, Technomic, is forecasting a total industry dollar growth of 3.5% next year, compared to this year’s 2.4% growth.

In the full-service category, casual dining will once again outperform the other segments next year with a growth rate of 7%. Most of the attendees at the Concepts of Tomorrow Conference occupy the casual segment, which explains their upbeat attitude.

Customers may not necessarily be in a celebratory mood, but they’re not hiding out in their homes, either. Perhaps the most overused word of the year has been comfort, as in comfort food, but the truth of the matter is, people are using your restaurants to get away from the stress of their lives and the world.

The good news is that the numbers suggest you are doing a good job. I say "you" because the readers of this magazine are full-service operators. Quick-service is not where you want to be right now.

That point became obvious during a question and answer period following consultant Bill Main’s discussion at the conference on "Building a Hot Brand." Some questions centered on McDonald’s which, despite having the best real estate, biggest marketing budget and the deepest pockets, is flailing.

An attendee in the audience asked Main about McDonald’s recent move to offer a 99-cent value menu and what it might do to the brand. Main, without missing a beat, said he doesn’t believe anything McDonald’s does will save the brand.

The woes McDonald’s is experiencing are common to many of the quick-service players. The country is growing up and its taste for fast-food is fading. For decades McDonald’s has been king of the hill, but its slide suggests nothing lasts forever.

If you’re not paying attention to your customers and how they’re changing with the times, you’ll be left behind whether you operate in the full-service or quick-service arena. The world is absolutely crazy right now, and life-altering change can take place in the blink of an eye. The 9/11 attacks taught us that.

Luckily, the ball is bouncing in favor of the full-service market and you’re in a great position. Nevertheless, you’d do well to stay positive and focused, and never take your eye off the ball.


EDITOR-IN-CHIEF [email protected]

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