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An independent panel of foodservice operators from the across the industry has selected the finalists for the 2013 Operator Innovations Awards. Three finalists in each of five categories will be brought to Chicago for the 2013 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show in May.

Categories include food safety, health and nutrition, menu development, sustainability and technology. The winners in each category, as well as an Innovator of the Year selected from all finalists, will be announced live in Chicago during the Destination: Celebration gala May 18.

Finalists in each category include:

Food Safety

  • HMSHost (Bethesda, Md.):A comprehensive food safety approach, featuring an audit process that goes beyond evaluation to integrate 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 (Woburn, Mass.): An 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.
  • Potawatomi Bingo Casino (Milwaukee): An 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.

Health and Nutrition

  • Overlook Medical Center (Summit, N.J.): The Summit Fit Club program rewards customers for healthier 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 (Stanford, Calif.): The Performance Dining program, which has six performance categories, was developed in cooperation with Stanford Athletics, the Stanford School of Medicine and the Culinary Institute of America, and takes a holistic approach to nutrition which, instead of counting fat and calories, focuses on food's positive influence in six performance categories.
  • United States Air Force (San Antonio): Food Transformation Initiative (FTI) revolutionizes Air Force food selections, cooking methods, meal availability and merchandising to guide customers toward healthier choices.

Menu Development

  • ARAMARK Higher Education (Philadelphia): Based on extensive research and feedback, this well received menu was developed from the ground-up, and features 100 new menu items inspired by the latest trends including healthy options, seafood, vegan/vegetarian entrees and international cuisine.
  • HMSHost (Bethesda, Md.): The Freedom To Choose Web portal is an internally developed, custom online tool for the company's 100-plus airport operations and 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 (Irvine, Calif.): The Doritos Locos Tacos features a shell made out of Doritos chips paired with a signature Taco Bell crunchy taco, combining two well-known brands to create the most successful new product introduction in the chain's history.

Sustainability

  • Kennesaw State University (Kennesaw, Ga.): The University's 5,000 guest/day dining operation 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 reduce costs, minimize environmental impact and qualify the facility for a gold LEED certification.
  • Pret a Manger (New York City): Worked closely with third-party experts to research and develop a comprehensive sustainability program which it openly shares 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 the homeless.
  • University of Wisconsin Oshkosh (Oshkosh, Wis.): Implemented a kitchen and dining recycling program that combines a food pulper with a dry fermentation anaerobic biodigester that digests food waste to produce methane gas that is used to generate electricity that meets up to 10 percent of the campus' needs. Other byproducts include rich compost and space heat.

Technology

  • Canteen (Charlotte, N.C.): Avenue C is a self-checkout micro-market 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 (Ann Arbor, Mich.): An 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 (Lake Buena Vista, Fla.): The Be Our Guest Restaurant utilizes a unique restaurant 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.

All nominations for the Operator Innovations Awards have been reviewed by the judges' panel of industry leaders consisting of Joe Alouf (president and CFO, Guckenheimer), Patricia Bando (associate vice president, Auxiliary Services, Boston College), Scott Barton (president, Fine Dining Division, Lettuce Entertain You), Jeff Broadhurst (president and CEO, Eat 'n Park Hospitality Group), Jean-Marie Clement (director, Food & 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), 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 & Beverage, Broadmoor Hotel).

"Restaurant operators are coming up with new and better ways to do business every day," said Jeffrey W. Davis, convention chair for NRA Show 2013 and CEO of the United States Beef Corporation. "The prestigious Operator Innovations Awards celebrate and drive continued advancement industry-wide, fueling customer satisfaction and profitability."

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