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Former Carlson CEO: The technology restaurants need for change

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There was not an empty seat to be found in the Tech Pavilion Sunday afternoon at the NRA Show 2010, when former Carlson Restaurants Worldwide CEO Wallace Doolin took the microphone to educate us about how to use technology to shape the future of the restaurant industry.

Doolin used the example of Ford to illustrate a company that turned around a downward trend. Every restaurant, Doolin said, needs to examine itself. Where does your brand stand in the restaurant landscape? Do you like where you are? If not, how are you going to change it?

If you want “transformational change,” Doolin said, consider these three items:

  • Technology. Don’t hold back on technology investments because you can’t prove its return on investment in advance. If you wait for absolute proof of ROI, you will miss your window. Explore opportunities in digital signage, online ordering, hand-held devices, enterprise reporting, product-cost systems, e-learning and social media. Being old is no excuse, according to Doolin. Take a look at Pizza Hut. The company developed the first quickservice mobile app and reaped the reward — to the tune of $1 million in sales via the app its first year.
  • Talent. Unemployment is up, which means that turnover is low. This is a golden opportunity for restaurateurs. You need to invest in folks who understand current technology and who are willing to embrace and explore what’s coming up next. Targeted talent equals competitive advantage.
  • Trust. The world is full of organizations consumers no longer trust: banks, government and churches, to name a few. Your company should represent integrity, communication, respect and and excellence. And you can’t just say it; you need to be it. Your company has to be trustworthy or else your customers — and your employees — will move elsewhere.

My favorite part of Doolin’s keynote was his final comment. To succeed in guaranteeing your competitive advantage, he said, you have to think differently from the next restaurateur. In essence, you have to think like Apple’s Steve Jobs. Put yourself in Steve Jobs’ frame of mind and take a look around. How would he innovate your company? What technology would he invest in?

According to Doolin’s final PowerPoint slide, the answer is simple: the iSpoon.

Image credit: airportrait, via iStockphoto