March 2023 marked our third year of publishing a “crossover” issue between QSR and FSR. We always approach the concept from a base—what trends and realities separate the full- and quick-service worlds? And which bind them? Or, spun differently, has the pandemic brought these arenas closer together or further apart? Like many points in foodservice, you can’t broad-stroke the answer. There is truth in both (thanks mostly to technology) and yet, COVID did accomplish something the customer was already pushing pre-2020: it all but evaporated the middle ground.
This long-ago idea of embracing millennials by trying to appease everyone—“all things to all people”—has vanished. Category wise, it brings us to a place where experiential brands and convenience-driven ones thrive as murky ones struggle. However, what innovation taught operators amid the crisis is you don’t have to sacrifice one for the sake of the other. You can bring hospitality to the drive-thru window just as you can the table. And maybe that’s the cost to entry now.
Yet with all of this in mind, I want to take you back a few months to a pivotal moment for us here at QSR and FSR. We transitioned to the WTWH Media family of brands officially in September. One of the first things we set course on was to host a conference dedicated to the future of restaurants. So naturally, this progressed into a vision where everything comes together in an effort to foster collective evolution; a place where one operator can learn from another, and one category from a completely different one. Starting Thursday, we opened registration for two conferences: QSR Evolution and The NextGen Restaurant Summit (full-service emerging chains).
They will both take place September 6–7 in Georgia’s Buckhead district. We’ve put together an agenda of more than 140 speakers addressing topics from is the POS dead, to ghost kitchens to what makes a best franchise, employer, eatertainment concept, and far more. We’ll also present a collection of fireside chats to illuminate stories behind the curtain—from CAVA to Dickey’s to Firehouse to Popeyes to Wendy’s to Sweetgreen to Chipotle to Chicken Salad Chick, and, as before, a lot more. Chick-fil-A CEO Andrew Cathy will kick off the opening keynote and we’ll get the show started.
Cathy’s keynote is called, “A Legacy of Evolution: Chick-fil-A’s approach to providing consistent quality and service in an ever-dynamic environment.” The description: “Following in the footsteps of his father, Dan T. Cathy, and his late grandfather, S. Truett Cathy, Andrew became just the third CEO in Chick-fil-A’s storied history when he assumed the role in November 2021. With extensive experience working in Chick-fil-A restaurants and serving in multiple Support Center roles, he’s committed to ensuring the future of Chick-fil-A as a healthy, purpose-driven, global organization devoted to making a lasting, positive impact on the people and communities it serves.”
I don’t really need to sell that one—the brand just generated nearly $19 billion in systemwide sales last year.
The other three keynotes include Subway’s president of North America, Trevor Haynes, who will talk about how the chain hit refresh and got its swagger back; Inspire Brands’ chief growth officer Christian Charnaux, who will bring us inside what just might be the fastest-growing restaurant conglomerate in history; and First Watch CEO Chris Tomasso. In the latter’s case, we’re talking about the fastest-growing full-service brand in America, and one that’s only ramping up.
Personally, this was the first time I’ve had a hand in planning an event of this scale. That’s probably a comical understatement. But many of those nerves dropped over a steak dinner with an industry friend, Jack in the Box VP of franchise recruitment Van Ingram. He was the first outside person I let in on our plans. His response was something along the lines of, “our industry is looking for this kind of deal.” He thought people would gravitate toward it, three-plus years removed from COVID, ready to share ideas again. And he was right. There are so many threads of challenges and opportunities to address today, across both sides of segment lines. To me, 2023 is a year where we all need to catch our breath from breathless innovation and find real solutions to meet demand in every channel, through all avenues.
So let’s do that together. I hope you’ll join us in September.