Innovation & Engagement Drive Service Strategy at Restaurant Executive Summit

Service is always top-of-mind for restaurant operators, but it was especially so during the 11th annual installment of the Restaurant Executive Summit, as a diverse mix of senior-level decision makers and subject matter experts gathered to take part in three days of peer-to-peer discussion, interactive workshops and networking sessions. The Summit sets itself apart from other conferences with its unique approach of bringing together executives from across the restaurant enterprise — including IT, marketing, finance and operations. With a 2015 theme of “Foodservice Fusion: Ops, Marketing & Tech Align for Service Excellence,” the Summit took place October 7-9 at The Montage Resort in Laguna Beach, CA, and gave attendees an opportunity to listen, learn, and share best practices for how to earn high marks in service through a combination of management, customer engagement and technology.

The tone for this year’s event was set early on as honorary chairperson John Costello, president, global marketing & innovation, Dunkin’ Brands, took the stage. Costello got attendees in the right mindset for the Summit’s agenda by reminding them to not forget the customer. “The core principals of building brands and delighting customers don’t change,” he advised. “Ask why consumers should choose your brands over all others.”

Dovetailing that sentiment, Bryan K. Williams, chief service officer of B. Williams Enterprise LLC, earned a standing ovation after his keynote presentation on “Earning the 5th Star: How to Create a Culture of Service Excellence & Ownership.” Among Williams’ key takeaways was the encouragement to never allow indifference or settle for less than exceptional. He advised the audience to consider asking teams to identify what they did to “wow” someone, with the ultimate goal to “make wowing the minimum expectation.”
Leadership in the face of change was the central focus of a day-one session titled, “Follow Which Leader? Shifting Influences & New Executive Roles.” Moderated by Scott Wise, president & owner, Scotty’s Brewhouse Inc., the panel was comprised of senior leaders from Jack in the Box, New York Cruise Lines, Inc. and Bloomin’ Brands. Panelists discussed the emergence of a new executive role — the chief digital officer — and its relationship, and potential threat, to CIOs. They talked about how to gracefully merge marketing and technology in the face of digital priorities. “If IT doesn’t report into the CEO, you’re not really serious about leveraging technology in your business,” cautioned Donagh Herlihy, EVP digital & CIO, Bloomin’ Brands.

After a networking luncheon, HT’s group editor-in-chief, Abigail Lorden, presented the 2015 Restaurant Breakthrough Awards. The awards honor foodservice companies for outstanding vision and achievement in operational and guest-facing technologies. This year’s awards were presented to Chili’s Grill & Bar, Firehouse Subs, and Panera (see below for more details on the winning initiatives).

The day continued with a session focused on how technology has become a force of disruptive innovation in the restaurant space. Panelists discussed how changes in technology have impacted all aspects of operations from back-of-house to the guest experience. One panelist, Evan Eakin, vice president, IT, Red Robin International, Inc. noted that the technology landscape demands change, saying, “In disruptive innovation, it’s absolutely about failing fast. You have to stand it up and tear it down if it’s not catching on or is broken. If it’s working, keep investing in it more.”

The Summit’s day two keynote kicked off the closing day with Mario Herger, founder & partner, Enterprise Gamification Consultancy, sharing his views on “How Restaurants Can Tap Gamification to Motivate their Workforce.”  This high-energy session showed the provocative side of utilizing next-gen capabilities to engage employees to make them more productive. As Herger explained, “Gamification happens when business and games have sex.”

The 2016 Restaurant Executive Summit will be held November 7-9, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. Visit for more information.

Customer Engagement Innovator:
Chili’s Grill & Bar Brings Disruptive Tech Tableside
Chili’s Grill & Bar ( was the first restaurant brand to partner with leading tabletop tablet provider Ziosk ( Officially launching in September 2013, Chili’s finished the roll out to the entire company system by the end of 2014 — a total of 823 locations in less than eight months — and has since rolled out to all franchise locations. Chili’s aim was to adopt the right form of consumer facing technology that would change the interaction with guests for the better, giving guests control and a more personalized experience. Chili’s also sought a solution to gather data on restaurant operations, marketing and menu decisions. The technology, featuring a 7-inch tablet and encrypted credit card reader, resides on each table and enables guests to see menu items, play games, view news and entertainment, order food and beverages and pay-on-demand. “As the first casual dining restaurant brand to successfully incorporate tabletop technology in restaurants nationwide, we are now able to connect with our guests like never before,” said Wade Allen, vice president of digital innovation and customer engagement for Chili’s Grill & Bar.  Since implementation, pay-at-the-table is the most used feature, reported at over 80%. Survey responses have increased 30-fold.

Enterprise Innovator:
Firehouse Subs Uses Dynamic Dashboard to Measure Performance

Firehouse Subs ( has been recognized for innovation in enterprise innovation for the implementation of the Station Pulse BI dashboard, and development of a 10-metric scorecard that measures a variety of hard and soft variables. The platform connects data from the POS, customer experience platform, call center feedback, Yelp ratings, and weather, all by zip code. This creates a dynamic user experience for reviewing operational and sales performance in one location using the GoodData platform. Firehouse’s proprietary scorecard allows the company to measure guest satisfaction in a variety of areas, including crew hospitality, number and quality of table interactions, quality of food, and even community engagement.

“Since Station Pulse functions as an all-in-one reporting tool, providing us everything from sales metrics and guest satisfaction scores to operational data, Yelp ratings and Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation metrics, it is invaluable for evaluating restaurant performance quickly and easily,” said Danny Walsh, director of reporting and analytics at Firehouse Subs. “Station Pulse is our Big Data solution and allows Firehouse Subs to discover insights and improve operations, compete more effectively and build new capabilities for our business.” By having operators focus on the 10 metrics of the Station Pulse Scorecard, year-over-year comparable sales have increased along with all customer experience metrics.  

NEW! Experience Innovator:
Panera Modernizes and Streamlines Customer Experience

Panera Bread ( was recognized for the system-wide technology advancements of Panera 2.0. The project spans from a customer-facing kiosk and POS software, to a BOH enterprise management tool.  “With Panera 2.0, we didn’t set out to be just a technology leader,” explains John Meister, SVP/CIO. “We wanted to modernize the customer journey. The many touchpoints of 2.0 allow our guests to access Panera in the way that works best for them – delivery, Rapid Pick Up, kiosk and mobile ordering.” The Panera 2.0 kiosk solution is based upon a proprietary iOS app serving as a front-end user interface. The company selected a POS platform to provide back-end commerce enterprise infrastructure. The project features integration with a variety of existing corporate solutions including: the MyPanera loyalty solution; the company’s universal eCommerce payments services; enterprise data management; and kitchen display and production systems. The resulting solution is an integrated experience that seamlessly fills all orders, from service through production, for a smooth customer experience.
This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds