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National Restaurant Association - NRA announces Operator Innovations finalists

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NRA announces Operator Innovations finalists

Three finalists in each of five categories ‑ Food Safety, Health and Nutrition, Menu Development, and Sustainability and Technology ‑ will vie for top honors at the 2013 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show in Chicago in May. The winners in each category, as well as an Innovator of the Year selected from the finalists, will be announced during the show’s Destination: Celebration gala May 18.

“Restaurant operators are coming up with new and better ways to do business every day,” said Jeffrey W. Davis, CEO of the United States Beef Corp., and convention chair for this year’s NRA Show. “The Operator Innovations awards celebrate and drive continued advancement industrywide, fueling customer satisfaction and profitability.”

This year’s finalists are:

Food Safety

HMSHost, based in Bethesda, Md., for its comprehensive food-safety approach featuring an audit process that integrates consultation and training. The program enables the company to ensure strict, uniform food safety across a widely varied and rapidly evolving portfolio of brands/concepts.

Ninety Nine Restaurants, the Woburn, Mass.-based casual-dining chain, for its allergy alert system that combines staff training and involvement with clear communications via ordering, display systems and tracking, ensuring awareness and proper preparation for everyone who touches a guest’s food and minimizing risk for all.

Potawatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee, for its internal education and standards program for cook chill systems, the effectiveness of which has not only improved costs, safety and efficiency – but also led to on-site workshops for local, state and federal inspectors that support better food safety for the greater community.

Health & Nutrition

Overlook Medical Center in Summit, N.J., for its Summit Fit Club program that rewards customers for making healthful food choices via Fit Points ranging from 1 to 3 displayed on menu items. Customers swipe their membership card on check out to accrue points, and receive a $5 meal voucher for every 200 points earned.

Stanford University - R&DE Stanford Dining, in Stanford, Calif., for its Performance Dining program, which has six performance categories developed in cooperation with Stanford Athletics, the Stanford School of Medicine and the Culinary Institute of America. The program takes a holistic approach to nutrition which, instead of counting fat and calories, focuses on food’s positive influence in the six performance categories, helping students, faculty and staff to perform at their mental and physical peak.

United States Air Force in San Antonio, for its Food Transformation Initiative that revolutionizes Air Force food selections, cooking methods, meal availability, and merchandising to guide customers toward healthier choices. When comparing participating with nonparticipating operations, performance metrics confirm FTI elevates healthfulness, energy and alertness through optimal nutrition, without sacrificing flavor, taste and satisfaction.

Menu Development

ARAMARK Higher Education, based in Philadelphia, introduced this well received menu developed with extensive research and feedback, was built from the ground-up, and features 100 new menu items inspired by such trends as healthful options, seafood, vegan/vegetarian entrees and international cuisine.

HMSHost in Bethesda, Md., for its Freedom To Choose Web portal, an internally developed, custom online tool for the company’s 100+ airport operations that is designed to give local operators access to hundreds of menu items, allowing them to quickly and easily tailor menus to keep up with traveler preferences and regional trends.

Taco Bell, based in Irvine, Calif., for its Doritos Locos Tacos, which features a shell made out of Doritos chips on the outside, with the classic tastes of the Taco Bell crunchy taco on the inside, combining two well-known brands to create the most successful new product introduction in the chain’s history.


Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga., for its 5,000-guest/day dining operation, which incorporates a comprehensive, closed-loop waste management program through a variety of efforts, including a robust organic "Farm-to-Campus-to-Farm" program, water reclamation, aerobic digestion, composting/recycling programs, oil-to-biodiesel conversion and more to significantly reduce costs, minimize environmental impact and qualify the facility for a gold LEED certification.

Pret a Manger, based in New York City, worked closely with third-party experts to research and develop a comprehensive sustainability program they openly share with the industry. The program features four-stream front-of-the-house recycling, plus additional recycling, waste diversion and composting process for back of the house. The resulting program diverts 55 percent of waste from landfills and results in 40 percent of excess food being donated to those in need.

University of Wisconsin Oshkosh in Oshkosh, Wis., for implementing its kitchen and dining recycling program that combines a food pulper with a dry fermentation anaerobic bio-digester that digests food waste to produce methane gas used to generate electricity that meets up to 10 percent of the campus’ needs. Other byproducts include rich compost and space heat.


Canteen in Charlotte, N.C., for its Avenue C self-checkout micromarket with more than 300 installations, and features remote temperature monitoring, multiple payment methods, biometric thumbprint security and RFID tag product identification to offer a wider variety of food selections, including better-for-you and fresh product options, without the cost associated with a full-service dining solution.

Mainstreet Ventures in Ann Arbor, Mich., for its interactive tablet menu that has completely replaced paper menus at 11 restaurants, going beyond item presentation to deliver additional information including customized wine pairings and nutritional information, for a more sustainable and efficient system that has increased check averages up to 10 percent.

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., for its Be Our Guest restaurant, which utilizes a fast-casual system capable of automating elements throughout the operation, including RF table locators, ordering, checkout, back-of-the-house workflow and more to deliver a personalized, streamlined experience for guests that allows the operation to serve more than 3,000 meals at lunch each day.

Nominations for the Operator Innovations Awards were reviewed by the judges’ panel of industry leaders, such as Joe Alouf, president and CFO of Guckenheimer; Patricia Bando, associate vice president, Auxiliary Services, Boston College; Scott Barton president, fine dining division, Lettuce Entertain You; Jeff Broadhurst, president & CEO, Eat 'n Park Hospitality Group; Jean-Marie Clement, director, food and beverage concept development, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Worldwide; Douglas Davis, senior director, Global Food Safety, Marriott International; Chris Demery, vice president, applications, Bloomin’ Brands, Inc.; James Houser, vice president of administration, Delaware North Cos.; John Metz, Jr., executive chef, president and co-founder, Sterling Hospitality; Christopher Pappas, CEO, Pappas Restaurants, Inc.; and C.W. Craig Reed, director of food and beverage, Broadmoor Hotel.

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