Pack your bags and lace up your most comfortable shoes: conference season is underway in the foodservice industry. From the National Restaurant Association’s massive May show to the Society for Hospitality and Foodservice Management’s annual event in September, summer is prime time for educational sessions, peer connections and more than a few vendor fairs. FoodService Director spoke to operators from across noncommercial foodservice to gather their top tips on getting the most out of this whirlwind time.
1. Make connections prior to arriving
“Depending on the size of the conference and information available, it is helpful to try to prenetwork with folks you’d like to meet. This way you’re not disappointed when you don’t get to connect with them.”
Managing director of catering, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.
2. Step out of your comfort zone
“I try to sit with different people during meals and sessions. This provides an opportunity to strike up a conversation with other professionals. [It] may be difficult at first, but putting yourself out there and introducing yourself to others provides many rewards. Think about it: If you are at the same conference, you already have something in common. There are plenty of things to talk about.”
Manager of food services/ clinical nutrition, St. Joseph Memorial Hospital, Carbondale, Ill.
3. Sample food, but try new things
“I eat strategically and out of necessity. I start at one end of the floor and work my way through the room. I am also sure to hit those vendors that are of particular interest to me, and to pace myself.”
Manager of food and nutrition services, Atlantic Health System, Summit, N.J.
4. Pay attention to the details
“The focus groups, general and interest sessions are all worthwhile, but you have to be open to new ideas. I think it is easy for a speaker to get up and quote all the top leadership books. But try to listen close and analyze what they are doing that might be different. I have picked up little things such as a certain question that they may ask during an interview or how are they finding new recruits that may be different.”
Culinary director, Wexner Medical Center, Columbus, Ohio
5. Power naps are your best friend
“You have a hotel room; don’t be afraid to use it during the day between sessions and breaks. A 20-minute nap can keep you running the rest of the day.”
Corporate director of culinary and nutrition services, Ohio Presbyterian Retirement Services, Columbus, Ohio
6. Don’t get overwhelmed by options
“Skip vendors that aren’t especially relevant to you if you’re short on time or at a large show. Make new connections rather than strengthen existing ones, as those connections can be reintroduced relatively easily.”
Nutrition services director, Aging Resources of Central Iowa, Des Moines
7. Pick up paper only when necessary
“I seldom take fliers unless it is needed to associate a company with a product or service. I always make an in-person connection with the supplier, and ask them to contact me in a week or so. Having the supplier call me back will remind me of the product, and also lends itself to not getting forgotten or lost.”
8. Refresh your memory
“[Try] to do a daily recap at the end of each day of a conference. Note people you may have met, look at follow-up materials or information that needs to be requested.”
9. Share gems with your team
“If more than one person from your organization attends, split up and compare notes afterwards. If you want to go again next year, make sure you present to your boss and other decision-makers what you learned at the conference and what you are bringing back to the organization.”
Director of nutrition and wellness, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C.
10. Get the info you missed
“If you couldn’t attend, look for webinars or recordings after the conference. Some conferences post flyers, handouts and other information on their website. Or ask a peer
to go in your place and