Non-commercial dominates Operator Innovation Awards finalists

National Restaurant Association new awards program innovations in five key areas.

Five non-commercial foodservice operators have been chosen as finalists for the National Restaurant Association’s inaugural Operator Innovation Awards. Three finalists have been chosen in each of five categories—Sustainability, Technology, Health & Nutrition, Food Safety and Menu Development. Winners will be announced at a new event during the NRA’s 2012 Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show next month.

Colorado Springs School District 11 and Sodexo North America are two of the three finalists in the Food Safety category. Colorado Springs was named for its “Allerschool” program, which keeps tracks of all potential allergens in school menu items in order to decrease the risk of students being exposed to foods that could harm them. Sodexo made the grade for its ISO-recognized food safety program. Waffle House Inc. is the third finalist in this category.

All three finalists in the Health & Nutrition category are non-commercial operators. Sodexo made the finals for its Did You Know Café, a cafeteria-as-classroom education program. Chartwells Higher Education was selected for its Balanced U health and wellness program. The University of California at San Francisco Medical Center was recognized for its integrated approach to alerting customers to healthful dining options.

In the Menu Development category, Sodexo School Services was selected for its Future Chefs competition, which encourages elementary and secondary school students to create and prepare healthful recipes. The University of North Carolina Healthcare was chosen for its program allowing hospital patients to order meals from 13 self-branded retail outlets in the facility. The other finalist is The Cheesecake Factory Inc. for its “stylized small plates” menu.

Finalists in the Technology category are airport concessionaire HMS Host, Which Wich franchisee SMART Restaurant Group and Stacked Restaurants LLC, Yorba Linda, Calif.

In the Sustainability category, finalists are Evelyn Hill, Inc., a New York City caterer that manages concessions at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island; Starbucks; and Chicago restaurant company Uncommon Ground.

“The Operator Innovations Awards are designed to celebrate and encourage continued advancement in the restaurant industry, while shining a spotlight on leading innovators who inspire other restaurant operators to new heights,” said Jack Crawford, convention chair for NRA Show 2012 and president and CEO of Ground Round Independent Owners Cooperative, LLC. “This first year’s operator finalists are driving innovation and excellence in execution, fueling customer satisfaction and profitability.”