Calm After the Storm

MenuDirections 2012 was a memorable conference. Now, how do we make it better?

After five days on the road, I’m back in our New York office, collecting my thoughts in the aftermath of what might have been our best MenuDirections conference ever. We had record attendance in terms of both operators and vendor partners, in Charleston, S.C., last week, along with some really informative and insightful content. Combined, that makes this a conference to remember.

Many things made this gathering significant. We created a strong, timely theme—Creating Flavor, Selling Health—and then carried it through in virtually every aspect of the conference. The only exception was the Dine-Around, a visit to three of Charleston’s great restaurants, which was outstanding for the quality of the food, if not its health quotient.

Flavor and health resonated with this group, and they were eager to learn about both. Workshops were filled to capacity, and some people actually passed up the networking breaks in between sessions, afraid that they would get shut out of a workshop other attendees were raving about.

MenuDirections taxes a hotel’s kitchen and staff like few other conferences, and yet what attendees saw was near seamless execution.

Dr. James Painter, the nutrition expert from Eastern Illinois University who was a big hit at last year’s conference, wowed attendees again with his description of 10 foods that can stave off heart disease. We once again got to honor the best in our business with our FSD of the Month Dinner—at which Lisette Coston of Saint Francis Medical Center in Tulsa, Okla., was named FSD of the Year—and our second annual Goldies Awards.

There were a lot of accolades tossed out throughout the conference, both from operator and sponsor attendees and from CSP executives, a few of whom hadn’t attended MenuDirections before.  It was a good feeling, knowing so many people were going away secure in the knowledge that they had been given reams of information to help them do their jobs better. But I wasn’t satisfied.

Of course, I am seldom satisfied. The editor in me is always critical, always evaluating and always seeing how something could have been written better, presented more compellingly or executed more flawlessly. MD 2012 was no exception.

I’m told that’s a good thing, although I am often like Mr. Tanner, the subject of a Happy Chapin song, who gets the chance to live his dream of being a singer. Chapin describes the man’s experience in this way: “He did not know how well he sang, he only heard the flaws.”

So I am already mulling over what I thought were misfires, wondering how to avoid them next year, while examining what worked well and trying to conceive of ways to make those elements better. To their credit, the rest of our MenuDirections team is doing the same thing.

To tweak the oft-quoted adage about restaurants, we’re only as good as our next conference. The good thing is that when you do something well and create a buzz about it, people will return. On the flip side, they expect their next experience to be even better than their last. So their expectation becomes our goal. To be honest, I guess I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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