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National Restaurant Association - Is your success a reality?

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Is your success a reality?

Two restaurant reality TV titans told an audience at this year’s NRA Show that lack of leadership and vision almost always leads to failure, no matter what kind of operation you run.

Robert Irvine and Jon Taffer, hosts of the Food Network and Spike TV’s “Restaurant Impossible” and “Bar Rescue” series  respectively, led a rollicking hour of shared adventure stories and advice.

The discussion, moderated by NRA Chief Innovation Officer Phil Kafarakis, touched on topics including fear and failure, the necessity of embracing technology and the definition of brand-building.

Here are a few highlights:

On dealing with failure

Taffer: The common denominator in failure is excuses. When Chef or I show up [at someone’s restaurant or bar] failure is always someone or something else’s fault. If we make [the owner or manager] own their failure, they have a chance at owning their success. If they blame someone else, they have no reason to change. We need to make them own that failure so they have the desire to change. We have to cause them to want to fight and own change.

Irvine: We get in people’s faces [on the shows] to break them down. You have to change someone from doing something for 50, 40 or 30 years. It’s like hitting your head against a wall. They don’t want to change until they bleed. Then it stops for a while. We break them down and build them back up to focus on the service, the food, menu changes and leadership, while not forgetting the financial responsibilities they have of running a successful business. These are real people with kids, families and mortgages. To see them suffering affects us. We put our best foot forward because we don’t want anyone to fail based on stupidity.

The relevance of technology

Irvine: Technology is changing our world. It’s changing our businesses. You are going to see paperless at some point. Paper menus and inventories will be gone. Technology is here, whether we like it or not. We’re going to have to find a way to embrace it. We need to train our employees so they can better service our guests.

Taffer: The other side of this is the Millennials, who look at their phones about 265 times a day. They don’t read newspaper ads and don’t react to many digital properties either. Their key source of communication is their phones. We have to find a way to get on that phone or tablet so we communicate with them. But there’s a negative to technology. It’s bothersome to me when it gets between a server and a guest. I can get alcohol at home, watch TV at home and get food at home. What I can’t get is the interactive environment at a bar, and that’s critical. For me, that interaction and relationship-building in the bar space is key. Any time technology gets between an employee and a guest and blocks that relationship, it worries me. Technology has to support service, not impede it.

Defining brand-building

Taffer: A brand isn’t a logo or color. Brands aren’t created, they’re built, and, I daresay, they’re built one guest at a time, one plate at a time and one entrée at a time. I believe we’re in the business of human relations. When a chef makes an entrée and it sits on a table, one of two things happens. Either the guest reacts to it or he doesn’t. If the guest doesn’t react, that restaurant is stuck in mediocrity for the rest of its life. If the guest does react, we win. We don’t serve food, we serve reactions. We don’t serve beverages, we create reactions through beverages. And he or she who creates the best reaction wins. Causing those reactions to happen is an emotional connection that drives frequency. That’s how we build brands -- one reaction at a time.

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