This week's Pizza Executive Summit attendees took advantage of the niche expertise of its top-level executive makeup by engaging in smaller breakout sessions. The resulting hands-on "Brain Exchange" sessions covered topics from constructing creative menu items, to coupon-free promotion strategies, to money-saving store build-outs. Here, a quick guide to some of the productive sessions, and the main takeaways each delivered to the entire conference:

  • Creative menu items: Liz Hertz of Burke Corporation led this group, which pertained to the development of trial-inducing dishes and side items. Group takeaways included the aggregate opinion that LTOs are overrated; many group constituents didn't find them effective in finding resonant or permanent menu items. Build-your-own options based on restaurants' existing ingredients are easy ways to reinvent menus. The group also believed that empowering employees to come up with new items could be the basis of effective menu additions.
  • Web-based employee training: Hosted by Ready talk's Josh White, this group examined virtual and/or mobile training tools. Key findings included that web-based employee instruction helps ensure standardization and quality control of training for larger companies. The best practice takeaway here included compiling content libraries of videos, recorded webinars and other training materials for automated programs.
  • Sustainable energy saving build-outs and retrofits: XLT oven's Peter Goodman led this session on practical, quick energy-efficient solutions and improvements that add up to big savings over a system. Suggestions included using hot water tanks or tankless systems that are quite energy efficient; replacing lights with lower wattage fluorescents, and working on getting better ventilation and indoor air quality, through achieving lower CFMs. Starting with good drawings is key here. More energy efficient appliances can be found at the Food Service Technology Center  (FisherNickel.com).
  • Workforce policy money pits: This session, helmed by Walt Disney World Company alum Deborah Zmorenski, president, LSA Partners, tackled some costly HR mistakes. The main idea was that skimping on insurance only costs businesses more in the long run. Zmorenski and team came up with a "magic number" insurance bottom -- $1 million -- and cautioned to review policies and expenditures to see where monies are more efficiently spent thereafter.
  • Web and social media: The angle of this session is subject of endless discussion, but the information was new in its practicality and tangibility. Streetza Pizza's Scott Baitinger answered a host of questions for executives who were still slightly confused about implementation and payoff. The major takeaway was to use social media platforms to broadcast a brand's truly unique attributes. Social media also is about monitoring the conversations surrounding your brand, and participants were apprised to scour the social web for mentions of praise and put-downs, especially to attempt service recovery. Baitinger offered several sites – including Trendrr.com, Trendpedia.com, and Google alerts – to help with tracking initiatives.

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