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Level Up: FCSI The Americas 2023 Symposium

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Taking place between January 30-31, 2023, in Orlando, Florida, the FCSI TAD 2023 Symposium will help members to focus on “being better, improving your knowledge, elevating your game”

Taking place in Orlando, Florida, January 30-31, just prior to the start of the NAFEM Show, the 2023 FCSI The Americas Symposium promises a line-up of expert speakers, important educational programming and plenty of fun — this after last year’s event was canceled, along with the NAFEM show, due to the ongoing pandemic.

“I’m excited to be back in Orlando and Seaworld. Our last event there in 2017 was great and we are debuting a new roller coaster for our Symposium along with some animal exhibits,” says Wade Koehler, FCSI executive director. “On the education side, our cashless systems and VR sessions should be fun to explore. The Symposium is just a great way to kick off the NAFEM week with plenty of networking, food, drink and fun.”

The theme for this year’s Symposium is Level Up! “Choosing a theme is fun but can also be very challenging; you want to capture an idea, the essence of your program, in only a few words – a single phrase that tells your audience what they are signing up for,” says Penny Price, director of member services for FCSI. “The planning committee really wanted to focus on being better, improving your knowledge, elevating your game, which led to Level Up, a video gaming term that means you are advancing within the game.”

Since 2019, the last time NAFEM and the FCSI Symposium was held, “we have all had to navigate perils and pitfalls, make adjustments, and continue to level up,” Price says.

In a flashback to the 2017 symposium, the conference will kick off the evening of Monday, January 30, with an opening party at SeaWorld – this time, attendees will have a chance to ride the brand new Ice Breaker roller coaster, which features four backwards and forwards airtime launches, which make you feel like you’re floating, and the steepest beyond vertical drop in Florida — a 93-ft-tall spike with 100-degree angle. On Tuesday, January 31, a full day of educational programming will be held at the Orange County Convention Center.

“We are very lucky to have an amazing conference planning committee (CPC), led this year by Tarah Schroeder. They have chosen some great educational sessions and given staff some fun ideas for networking. We have a couple fun games and contests planned,” says Koehler.

“Our Symposium just offers a great way to get your CEU’s, network with colleagues and warm up those feet to walk the enormous NAFEM Show floor.”

Practical challenges

The Conference Planning Committee (CPC) – which is comprised of FCSI Professional member consultants and includes Chair Tarah Schroeder, along with: Sojo Alex, Envision Strategies; Peg Galie, S20 Consultants, Inc.; Eric Goodrich, Rippe Associates; Kevin Kochman, KCL Kochman Consultants, Ltd.; Kristin Sedej, S20 Consultants, Inc.; Patrick Watt, A Day in Life Foodservice Development; Craig Volcovici, True Manufacturing; Danielle Mason, Middleby and Kathleen Held, Cini-Little International, Inc.

The CPC worked closely with Price, Koehler and team to come up with topics and recruit speakers who could speak on more practical, how-to terms: a must for today’s challenges in the industry.

“The first step in the planning process is to survey the full membership and ask what they want to learn about,” says Price. “We feel strongly that the education should be representative of what the membership needs at the moment. FCSI members are the industry experts so we rely heavily on them to tell us what is important, what is relevant, and what they need to know more about.

“We then take all of those submissions to the planning committee. We spend an entire day together reviewing the submissions and determining which topics will be included in the program, the format of each session, who will present and so on. Once we have the program outlined, staff get to work securing the speakers and finalizing the program details.”

As always, sessions will include something for everyone, from MAS consultants and design consultants to business owners, manufacturers and other foodservice professionals.

Topics include everything from increasing profits to diversity, education and inclusion, sustainability and “decarbonizing” kitchens, frictionless technologies, the future of farming, when to merge, sell or expand, and ways to help clients deal with the ongoing labor crisis. “The changes we have seen in the industry over the past 18 months drove the direction and focus for the Symposium. We chose sessions to spark conversation as we all anticipate the future of foodservice and consulting,” says CPC chair Tarah Schroeder FCSI, executive principal at Ricca Design Studios.

“The CPC is pulling out all the stops, as we are bringing in operators, architects, futurists, engineers, mental health advocates, and forward thinking members to offer up ideas as we navigate the coming year and level up our practices.” Schroeder says the committee received plenty of suggestions from members across the country when they started planning, making it straightforward to make the final decisions on the program.

“All the topics and speakers felt incredibly relevant to our day-to-day work. And of course, the CPC has a fun throwback party planned to celebrate each other and the return of NAFEM,” she concludes.

Breakout sessions

Based on Symposium attendee feedback over the years, the CPC and FCSI team decided that in addition to the speaker-based sessions, a panel format will be used for breakout sessions, of which there will be five at this year’s event.

“This is a great way to present valuable information from a variety of sources which gives attendees options and alternative ways to implement new ideas,” Price says.

Keynote speaker Ken Gronbach, a well-known demographer and author, who presented at the 2017 Symposium is back by popular demand and will deliver the opening presentation. Motivational speaker and positive mindset guru Jason Wange will deliver the closing keynote speech.

Koehler and Price extend a huge thank you to this year’s sponsors, who were overwhelmingly generous with their support. “We are so fortunate to have the support we do from our Allied membership. It never goes unnoticed and is always much appreciated; the support is overwhelming,” says Koehler.

Aside from the FCSI The Americas Conference, the Symposium “is the only foodservice event where you get the opportunity to network with a vast majority of FCSI members in one location without being surrounded by thousands of people,” says Koehler. “Learning from each other is guaranteed.”

The 2023 FCSI The Americas Symposium is, as always, the perfect way for members to ease themselves into the bustle of the NAFEM Show. Have fun.

Amelia Levin