Event review: FCSI The Americas Conference – Camp FCSI 2024

Drone displays! Comedy improv! Texan BBQ food trucks! Michael Jones reports on an exceptional Camp FCSI 2024 in Austin, TX, where the food and fun were as equally high level as the educational sessions and networking

In Texas, everything HAS to be bigger. So, the epic spectacle of 150 drones lighting up the Austin night sky, spelling out greetings to the attendees of the FCSI The Americas Conference was very much on message for the Lone Star State.

As the drones flashed out the words ‘Welcome to Austin’ and ‘Camp FCSI’ (among many other phrases and moving images – including food trucks, champagne bottles, burritos and – to top things off – the FCSI logo) it was a great way to sum up the whole event: bigger, better, smarter. And seriously fun.

The conference, taking place at Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort in Austin on 11-13 April, had been delayed since Covid interrupted festivities in 2020. The scale and charm of the event more than made up for the wait. The opening party on Thursday night set the tone as the networking attendees (numbering 335 – with a near 50/50 split between consultant Professional members and manufacturer Allied members) tucked into BBQ served from rows of food trucks and local delights from Austin’s diverse culinary scene. The outdoorsy ‘campsite’ theme of the conference was perfectly captured in the balmy night air.

Learning, networking, socializing

Two full days of education followed as the Conference Planning Committee (CPC) and FCSI The Americas’ executive director Wade Koehler and his expert team got the balance exactly right between learning, networking and socializing. Amid the horseback riding, archery, tomahawk throwing and ‘crafts and drafts’ was a seriously well-thought-through program agenda that offered much insight for both design and MAS consultants – and the wider foodservice community.

Topics as varied as working with Bluebeam, frictionless payments, AI, partnering with architects, smart-phone marketing, and master plan development were all covered across the agenda in some excellent breakout sessions. Feedback from attendees to the program was extremely positive – as it was to the Q1 edition of Foodservice Consultant magazine, which premiered at the conference.

Much praise was also given to the FCSI Educational Foundation (FCSI EF) for gifting $1,200 grants to 19 first-time conference attendees that are new to FCSI.

Peak performance needs a purpose

Following a welcome address from conference chair Tarah Schroeder FCSI (pictured below), opening keynote Eddie Slowikowski, an entrepreneur and a former world-class runner, discussed achieving peak performance in his heartfelt and inspiring presentation entitled ‘The 4-minute Formula’.

Step one of that formula, said Slowikowski, is to “decide what you want and why. Understand your purpose and your meaning. People who are peak performers are great at building relationships and have a passion for what they do.” It was certainly an apposite message for this audience.

During the conference an Innovation Showcase saw FCSI Allied members competing for the prize of Product of the Year, which was won by Structural Concepts’ Automated Retail Merchandiser. The Middleby Corporation received the Education Provider of the Year Award, while Perlick were also awarded for the same achievement posthumously from 2022.

Awards were also bestowed upon Bill Caruso FFCSI, who was presented with the FCSI Americas Service Award, as well as a further plaque from FCSI Worldwide, for his dedication to the Society for many decades. “Bill bleeds FCSI gold and purple. He’s Mr FCSI,” said current president of FCSI Worldwide, Eric Norman, of Caruso. “I’ve been doing this since the Stone Age – since I joined FCSI in the 1970s. I thank you all,” said Caruso.

Koehler was also honored – although perhaps roasted would be a more accurate description – as former TAD chairs and presidents of FCSI Worldwide thanked him for his exceptional service to the division, while sharing amusing anecdotes – and some comical gifts – of their time working with Koehler.

On Saturday, I had the distinct honor of moderating a breakout panel session titled ‘If I Would Have Known Then’ that featured consultants Christine Guyott FCSI RDN, Bill Bender FCSI, Ben Gregoire FCSI and Joe Mora FCSI candidly recounting mistakes, missteps, and milestones from their illustrious careers. As a consultant, it’s really important “you know what you don’t know,” said Mora.

Bender espoused his believe that consultants must “walk in the shoes of their clients” and be adaptable, while Guyott conveyed how important it is for consultants to demonstrate both “confidence and humility,” when working with clients. “I believe consultants should be resourceful and problem solvers,” said Gregoire, who also said he wished he “had joined FCSI years ago” because of the integrity it delivers.

A closing keynote from improvisation coach Katie Goodman on ‘Using Improv to Improve Your Life’ and to help business performance rounded off the conference, before a fun closing party in Down Town Austin, where off-the-wall band The Spazmatics ensured the city’s mantra of ‘Keep Austin Weird’ was spiritedly embraced by attendees.

Peak performance was celebrated throughout the conference – from the drones in the Texan sky to the dance floors of Bangers. Hat’s off – or perhaps Stetson’s admiringly doffed – then to Wade, Penny, Daniel and the CPC for putting on one hell of a big conference in the big state. Yeehaw!

Michael Jones

Picture credits: The Fuze