What I Learned At The Restaurant Leadership Conference

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Article contributed by David “Rev” Ciancio

The Restaurant Leadership Conference concluded last month in Phoenix, AZ. Winsight, the company behind the event described it as “an insight-filled agenda, expert speakers, leading suppliers and, of course, unique and unparalleled networking opportunities.”

Food service executives and suppliers come together for a few days to meet, learn and exchange ideas about what is working, what changes are on the horizon and what can we all do together to advance the business. The Restaurant Leadership Conference was really a great event.

Here’s what I learned there that I can share to help inspire your growth:

1. Technology adoption is the forefront of change in the restaurant business

Between changes in the labor pool, consumer habits moving online and the need for more control of costs, the right tech will help you go faster, achieve more and make things easier. At this  point it goes without saying, that you need to evaluate your operations AND marketing to see where you can gain efficiencies with tech.

2. Great experience > great food

You can be serving the highest quality, most delicious food sourced from the most amazing ingredients but if the experience both on and off line is mediocre or worse, you are going to fail. We all have unlimited dining options and decide where to get our next meal based on either the need for convenience or the desire for an experience. Its likely a person will pass several, if not dozens of places to eat en route to your dining room and be presented with a ton of choices online to place an order. 

  • AyrKing Mixstir
  • Texas Pete
  • Atosa USA
  • RATIONAL USA
  • McKee Foodservice
  • BelGioioso Burrata
  • DAVO Sales Tax
  • Day & Nite
  • RAK Porcelain
  • Simplot Frozen Avocado
  • Imperial Dade
  • Inline Plastics Safe-T-Chef
  • T&S Brass Eversteel Pre-Rinse Units

3. Omni-channel marketing is the name of the game

Your guests are on TikTok, they read emails, they get texts, they have a mailbox in front of their house, they drive by billboards. Maximize your ability to get in front of as many of them as you can. 

**Pro-tip** Use your current guest database to target in multiple channels. According to Stephan Farr-Jones from ADM Marketing, you can increase performance by at least 50%.

4. Forget frictionless, go for awesome

I have to give Jennifer Kern from Qu POS credit for this. We have all been talking about creating a frictionless guest journey online. All that means it that it doesn’t suck. We should be aiming for easy, smooth, fun, engaging and awesome in designing how our guests find our restaurants and then transact. 

Ivan Matkovic from Spendgo gave an incredible presentation on how to create an incredible guest journey. I’d highly suggest you ping him and ask for a copy of the presentation. We are using Bbot at Handcraft Burgers and Brew and I’ll be asking him kindly to share it with them because it was literally a road map. Which brings me to my next point.

5. Go Amazon, Go Tesla or Go Home

Did you know that you can get a Tesla, a car that costs more than $100,000 into your cart in less than 2 clicks on their website? Ivan gets credit for sharing that with us. You’ve got to figure out how to get your menu items into a cart in 3 clicks or less. Make it simple stupid easy to order from you and you’ll get more orders.

6. Here’s your new guest acquisition playbook for virtual brands

I asked Geoff Alexander, President & CEO of Wow Bao, Robert Earl from Earl Enterprise and Co-Founder Virtual Dining Concepts and Aaron Noveshen, CEO, Starbird / Founder & Chairman, The Culinary Edge one question: What is the top method / channel in which you acquire new guests. Here is a list of EVERYTHING they shared:

  • Push for pre-order / order ahead to not only capture guest data but make the experience faster for the guest
  • Run ads on third party delivery service providers.
  • Have exclusive items available on third party delivery service providers
  • Online ordering must have great photos
  • The experience must be great
  • The brand must have meaning
  • Follow up with your guests to get feedback (I suggest using Ovation!)
  • Use influencer marketing
  • Update and manage both your listings and reviews to effect local search (I suggest using Marqii!)

7. Coupons increase frequency and average order value

SAY WHAT? There is a catch though. According to a panel that I attended which included Trish Giordano from Earl Enterprise, when you have a guest IN your loyalty platform, a coupon comes across more like a reward. It will get your guests coming back more often and spending more.

8. Limit your delivery zone

When you tighten up your delivery zone, you improve delivery times, customer satisfaction and increase tips for drivers. Before you start to discredit that idea, keep in mind that was a suggestion from Ritch Allison, Chief Executive Officer of Domino’s. They might know a thing or two about delivery. 

9. Marketers are still trying to make “BOGO” a word

Ok this one is just for fun. I believe “BOGO” was an acronym created in a corporate boardroom that no real human (AKA consumer) uses. Can we please stop shortening this? 

It’s buy one get one free. You know who likes to buy one get one free? Everyone. BOGO sounds like a horrible physical activity I have to go through to get through the front door of your restaurant that resembles a bunny hop. I’ll just walk in and like a normal human and pay for my burger.

Like I said, it was a great conference. If you were at Restaurant Leadership Conference, what did you learn? Send me a message on LinkedIn or Instagram and let me know. I’d like to hear and if I share it, I’ll give you credit!


David Rev CiancioDavid “Rev” Ciancio is a former New York City bar owner and knows exactly how hard it is to operate and brand a hospitality business.

He is now a hospitality marketing consultant, customer and technology evangelist with more than 20 years experience in B2B digital marketing and business development, specializing in hospitality marketing, content, local SEO, reputation management and influencer marketing. He helps technology companies, brands and restaurants to acquire and retain customers. Rev is known as an “expert burger taster,” pens hospitality and marketing tips on his Instagram @revciancio, as well as his LinkedIn Profile. He believes that Pizza is a religion. Learn more at https://bit.ly/followersorders

  • Simplot Frozen Avocado
  • Inline Plastics Safe-T-Chef
  • BelGioioso Burrata
  • RAK Porcelain
  • Texas Pete
  • T&S Brass Eversteel Pre-Rinse Units
  • Day & Nite
  • AyrKing Mixstir
  • Imperial Dade
  • Atosa USA
  • DAVO Sales Tax
  • McKee Foodservice
  • RATIONAL USA