Aside from zen rooms, sugar shacks, maple whisky and poutine, the FCSI The Americas 2022 Conference delivered exceptional insight – and great fun, reports Michael Jones
“What a beautiful and great city,” said FCSI The Americas Division (TAD) 2022 Conference chair Stephanie Gilbert of Montreal, Canada – the host city for the Division’s first in-person event since 2018. Hotel Bonaventure in downtown Montreal proved to be a superb venue – in a superb city – for a Conference themed ‘Together Again’, which reflected an event that was long-overdue and much-welcomed following the enforced delays of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Conference Planning Committee and TAD executive team, led by Wade Koehler, delivered an event for the 270 attendees across April 21-23 that was big on education and insight – with impressive speakers and pertinent breakouts – but also delivered plenty of fun via evening parties and networking sessions. There was even a ‘Zen Room’ for members to relax and chill out in during the Conference.
The food, unsurprisingly for a city boasting the highest number of restaurants per capita in Canada (and the second highest in North America after New York City), was exceptional throughout the event. Poutine and smoked meats were in abundance, while delicious maple whisky warmed up the attendees at the Friday night evening reception in the rustic and hospitable confines of the Sucrerie de la Montragne ‘sugar shack’.
The future of foodservice
For all that, it was the education and insight from the guest speakers and breakout session presenters that will live long in the memory. Keynote speaker Mike Lee of Alpha Food Labs set the tone on day one, with his presentation on The Future of Foodservice. “We explore and build the future of food. But the immediate, and what is on the horizon, are equally important,” he said.
“There is value in the experience of dreaming what the future might be. Better innovation in food today starts with ambition for tomorrow.” Suggesting food is a confluence of “logic and emotion”, Lee cited three core factors impacting the future of food: Comfort, Trust and Access.
For Lee, future trends can always be found on the periphery of the industry. “The breakthrough stuff is always on the edges. Look to the fringes, it’s where the interesting stuff is happening,” said Lee.
He ended his presentation with an analogy of how foodservice operators must not lose heart in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges presented by the pandemic and the labor crises it has escalated. The Japanese art of Kintsugi sees broken crockery/pottery repaired with liquid gold, creating beautiful results that are also stronger than the previous iteration. “Let’s start filling in the cracks with gold,” said Lee. “Let’s create the future together.”
Technology, trends and transparency
The Conference saw a series of outstanding breakout sessions. Day one saw consultant and operator speakers address subjects as diverse as ventless innovation, addressing KPIs, human resources and strategic planning, to automation and robotics, video marketing and sustainability. Day two focused on FCSI Revit standards, project management, the operator’s perspective, supply chain issues, joint ventures and designing for the customers’ and owners’ needs post-pandemic.
Additional general sessions saw Joe Carbonara, editor in chiefFE&S Magazine chair a session on Our Industry: Looking Ahead with Ken Schwartz FCSI, Rob Connelly of Henny Penny (and NAFEM immediate past president), Kirby Mallon, president of CFESA and Tom Mitchell, President of MAFSI.
The session took in supply chain fragility, the push for greater onshore production, and the need for more transparency with customers.
“Covid has changed the dynamic of the industry,” said Schwartz. “For the last 30 years, the industry has been extremely competitive. But the paradigm has changed. It’s become a seller’s market. If someone doesn’t want to buy a piece of equipment, the guy immediately behind him will buy it.”
Filling in the cracks with gold
Comedian and life & career coach Jessica Holmes combined the funny with the deeply moving as she discussed her own battles with depression and addressed how we can all get a better handle on our mental health through a mix of her comedy and motivational speaking.
Conference closing keynote Peter Shankman, an entrepreneur, author and expert in social media, PR, marketing, advertising and the customer experience, focused on The five rules of the customer economy and how to stay ‘top-of-mind’ in every customer’s mind, from beginning to end. “‘How can I help you’ are the five most under-used words in the English dictionary,” said Shankman. “Reach out to your audience when you have nothing to sell. And be real – don’t automate it. This isn’t rocket science. The bar is so low in the customer experience, so just become brilliant at the basics.”
The FCSI TAD 2022 Conference was certainly brilliant at the basics – and the high level too. Filling members’ minds with the liquid gold of great insight and the simple joy of being ‘together again’ – so we can all come back stronger.
Innovation Showcase FCSI The Americas Product of the Year – Rational iVario-Pro
2022 Bob Pacifico Award – Dick Eisenbarth FCSI
Americas 2022 Service Award – John Radchenko FCSI
Rod Collins Allied Summit Award – Rob Geile, Ali Group
2020 Educational Provider – Electrolux
2021 Educational Provider – Ali Group
Special awards for William Caruso FFCSI (pictured, with FCSI Worldwide president Mario Sequeira FCSI) and Nick Vaccaro, Executive Administrator. FCSI Worldwide