I just returned from my first NACUFS conference, which was held in Minneapolis, and perhaps the thing that’s sticking in my head is a comment about Solo Cups. This could very well be because of Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup” song, which is one of those maddening ditties that get stuck in your head for hours.
The comment came during a roundtable discussion about retail operations on college campuses. Vanderbilt’s Spiros Vergatos was talking about the importance of knowing exactly what your customers want so that you can provide those products to them and make a profit. For example, he said one of the university’s c-stores sits right across from fraternity row and one of its best-sellers is Solo Cups. (I’ll go ahead and assume I don’t need to explain this one. As opposed to the song, Vanderbilt’s cups are not red but gold and black to match the university’s colors.) That c-store has become the No. 1 seller of Solo Cups in the state of Tennessee.
That’s just one of the things we learned at the conference—Associate Editor Steven Johnson also attended the show. Here are a few other interesting tidbits:
• Dr. Temple Grandin spoke about animal welfare issues. She noted that while younger people are more concerned about where their food comes from, only 31% have ever been to a farm. Grandin also said it was important to prevent bad from becoming normal. To ensure that, set high standards and audit/measure against those.
• The grand prize in the culinary competition went to Bryce Benes from Orange Coast College.
• Chef Mai Pham discussed the benefits of incorporating more Asian cuisine, particularly Vietnamese and Thai, into college dining halls. Pham says food from Southeast Asia uses more vegetables and less meat, which would bring costs down while promoting a healthier food option for students. In addition to vegetables, Pham recommended more use of nuts and legumes as a protein substitute to meat. Also, serving smaller portions such as in more traditional Asian meals also helps to promote healthier eating habits. Pham says operators can do without the use of processed foods by incorporating herbs and spices to add more layers of flavors.
• Steven Schussler, the restaurant developer best known for the Rainforest Café, spoke at the 5 P’s of Entrepreneurial Success. Those are: personality (be yourself); product (be proud of your product); persistence ("no's" are "yes's" waiting to happen); people (have the right people who believe in your mission); and philanthropy (never forget to help others). Schussler also shared his 11 commandments for creativity: entertainment, education, environment, employees, earning, sight, sound, smell, touch, taste and passion. He also said innovation takes time and that research and development should be the last things cut from your budget.
• Joe Pine, author, speaker and management advisor, spoke about going beyond foodservice. Pine’s three rules to do business by are: if you are authentic, you don’t have to say it; it’s easier to be authentic than to say you’re authentic; and if you say you’re authentic, then you better be authentic. Pine’s design principals are THEME: theme the experience; harmonize the impression with positive cues; eliminate negative cues; mix in memorabilia; and engage all five senses. Pine says we have shifted into an experience economy and customizing service turns something into an experience.