BALTIMORE — At the 2006 Mid-Atlantic Food & Beverage Expo, speakers and exhibitors talked about empowering workers. The half-century-old event was held here Sept. 20-21.
 
"What other industry can somebody go from the dish room to the boardroom?" said Ed Tinsley III, the National Restaurant Association chairman, to executives at the annual Restaurant Association of Maryland Executive Breakfast. "As leaders in this industry, we need to encourage young people to work in our restaurants."
 
(To listen to Tinsley's speech at the executive breakfast go to Podcastgrill.com.)
 
Although the restaurant industry is the largest employer for young people and immigrants, Tinsley said the 16- to 24-year-old employee demographic is not growing. "However, good leaders are built out of challenges," Tinsley said.
 
He said operators should actively and creatively recruit young workers and help improve their leadership skills.
 
 
 
 

The Mid-Atlantic Food and Beverage Expo was a busy place for exhibitors and attendees. From chef competitions to good eatin' to  new technology showcases, they had a slew of events to attend. To view more photos from the Mid-Atlantic, click here. Photos by Fred Minnick.

"You (restaurateurs) have an opportunity to make a difference in a young person's life," Tinsley said. "We're in the people business, and our employees are the cornerstone of our industry."
 
Bill Marvin, a.k.a. The Restaurant Doctor, agrees with Tinsley. As the keynote speaker for the conference, Marvin encouraged operators to be flexible with employees and not use fear as a management tool.
 
Marvin used the anecdote of a restaurant owner whose waiter showed up late for his shift. Normally, this owner would have scolded the tardy waiter. But instead the operator put her hand on his shoulder, showed compassion and simply asked if everything was OK.
 
"The owner learned the waiter's girlfriend was pregnant," said Marvin, who's the author of several restaurant business books, including 50 Ways to Improve Guest Services. "Imagine what kind of reaction the owner would have received had she made an example of the waiter for being late. Her employee had problems outside of work, and we tend to forget our workers have stress, too."
 
Marvin said it's ideal to have an environment where there's no concern about motivating people with incentives or pressure since the workers are generally happy.
 
"Imagine a work place where the environment is calm, yet people are intensely involved in work activities," he said. "Imagine meetings so enjoyable and productive that people leave more energized than when they arrived.... Every operation can have this kind of workplace."
 
Marvin said it's not the manager's job to run the restaurant. It's OK to walk away every day at 5:30 p.m. and hand over the duties to an assistant manager. "Go home and watch your kids grow up," he said.
 
Marvin, a former restaurant owner himself, said a good work environment is a reflection of the owner. And a good owner listens.
 
"I always ask operators: What have you learned from your staff today? If you can't answer that, you are not listening," Marvin said. "It's funny ... because people who don't listen think they do. Just because you started your career in the dish room does not mean you know about the issues in the dish room today."
 
He also said it's not the manager's job to answer everybody's questions. "When you define yourself as a problem solver, you get problems," Marvin said. "Empower your workers. Let them figure out solutions."
 
'The show has gotten better'
 
For the more than 300 exhibitors at the expo, the 8,000 attendees were quality leads. Emily Cooper, sales manager for Sherrill Inc. (crab supplier), said she inked several deals on the show floor.
 
"This is our first time to exhibit at the Mid-Atlantic, and we put a lot of effort into our booth," said Cooper, who spent $7,000 on space and materials. "But it's been well worth it. We'll definitely be back next year."
 
Show officials said they have already signed 30 booth contracts for next year.
 
Debating on being an exhibitor at the 2007 show is the country of Chile, which sent delegates to assess the show's potential to showcase the country's vegetables and produce.
 
"In Chile, we have many great food products," said Ricardo Bosnic, the economic officer for the Chilean Embassy. "We are impressed with the people here. We have a very good relationship with the NRA and the Restaurant Association of Maryland."
 
Ron Douglas, a foodservice broker for the White Rock Beverage company, however, said the show was the best one in five years.
 
"I've seen more food than I can remember in recent years," Douglas said. "We've gotten a lot of really good leads here."
 
That was the goal, said Licia Spinelli, director of marketing for the Restaurant Association of Maryland.
 
"Coming to the Mid-Atlantic Expo gives operators a chance to see the food and marketing trends, and they can learn how to run their operation more efficiently," Spinelli said.
 
For information about next year's show visit MidAtlanticExpo.com. To view a slideshow of the show, click here.

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