What I Learned Today at MenuDirections

As a conference first-timer, I had a few unusual revelations.

One day into the Menu Directions conference here in Charleston, S.C., I’ve stumbled across some truths that surprised this first-time attendee of the meeting, an immersion in America’s foodservice preferences. Not all of the insights pertain to food and flavors, as these learnings attest:

--The best-selling products in college convenience stores are condoms and energy drinks. Any correlation is a strong matter of conjecture.

--Youngsters’ over-reliance on their parents doesn’t end when the kids head off to college. A college director said he often hears from moms and dads when student-employees aren’t able to make their shift in an on-campus facility. Instead of calling the boss themselves, they have the parents do it, even if the parets are residing hundreds of miles away.

--Food preferences may be more a result of nurture than nature. Consider chef Dave Zino’s aside on why some people are accustomed to having their steaks well-done. “My mother was the best cook in the world, God rest her soul. But I was in my 20s before I realized that pork chops didn’t have to be cooked until they were crispy to be good,” Zino recounted during a brainstorming session on ways of promoting health in non-commercial facilities. “She thought you had to cook the tar out of everything.”

--The use of beef in salads is a trend clearly on the upswing.

--Customers prefer fresh foods over organic choices by a 3:1 ratio.

--There are 30 different types of Creole tomatoes.

--There’s a technology gap between foodservice directors and their management counterparts from restaurants. At any conference for the latter, you’d see the attendees pecking away on laptops and tablets. Looking at the room of executives from the non-commercial sector, you'd be hardpressed to find one who was taking notes via a keyboard. This is still a paper-and-ink crowd.

--No sector of the foodservice industry is as punctual as executives on the non-commercial side of the business. The foodservice directors attending our conference typically showed up early. They don’t seem to share restaurateurs’ attitude that being on time is an ideal to shoot for, not an objective that should be consistently met.

I’ll have more for you after Day Two. 

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