The 2008 People Report QSR Workforce Symposium was hosted June 24 and 25 at the Las Colinas Marriott Hotel in Dallas. Over 150 operators and HR professionals representing 40+ QSR concepts and 30 percent of the foodservice workforce attended the 2nd annual event.

Conference chair Jim Lynde, senior vice president of People for Sagittarius Brands, kicked off the conference sharing insights on the blazing forest fires the QSR and Fast Casual segments are facing as a result of current economic and labor conditions. Lynde, a foodservice veteran of more than 20 years stated, “Our industry is facing déjà vu of the economic downturn of the late 70’s with similar indicators in rising fuel prices, a tightening labor market, and skyrocketing commodities.” He added, “It’s fitting that the conference theme this year is, ‘Now More Than Ever, People Matter’ as strategic focus on our human capital will provide the real solutions that distinguish us from the competition.”

Like every People Report event, the agenda was filled with thought-provoking speakers and innovative operators, combined with opportunities for attendees to engage one another in developing new ideas. People Report’s president, Teresa Siriani and CFO/ CAO, Bill Schaffler set the tone for the two days of insight, examining the trends that have impacted the QSR and fast casual segments with the combined lens of a financial and human capital perspective. Schaffler, the former CFO of La Madeleine restaurants stated, “A few years ago, if an off the wall employee initiative came across my desk, it probably would have been filed deep in the stack of things that needed funding–in today’s business climate, it would go to the top of the pile.”

Siriani and Schaffler wove a thread that would carry through the rest of the conference challenging attendees to look for solutions that are crazy, unique, real, kind, and just. Siriani stated that this combination, customized for the brand, has the power to cut the clutter in a highly competitive market and build a business for the long haul.

Throughout the two day conference, innovative operators and speakers challenged the audience to move beyond today’s best practices and benchmarks, and to propel the entire industry forward.

Jon Luther, chairman and CEO of Dunkin’ Brands, shared his thoughts on leadership, driving home the message that a focus on the culture of the organization and finding people that believe in the values and live them daily is what matters most in creating a long lasting brand. Harsha Agadi, president & CEO of Church’s Chicken, shared his thoughts on what turned Church’s brand around and has continued to help gain market share. His inspirational message focused on his charge to create opportunities for great people by making his best managers into owners or franchisees.

Both the Dunkin’ and the Church’s teams were on hand to treat attendees to coffee, donuts, and a lunch of Church’s chicken.

Other thought leading speakers included Steve Bigari, a former McDonald’s franchisee who holds the patent on the triple drive thru. Steve shared how he used an innovative melding of private sector, non-profit, and government resources to help the working poor, enabling him to help his employees create what he calls “sustainable” employment. Eric Chester, founder of Generation Why, challenged the audience to look at new ways to engage the next generation in the workforce including mentorship, recognition, and technological solutions. Penelope Trunk, author of “The Brazen Careerist,” enlightened the audience on the new rules in the workplace, including examples of how employees customize their own careers, pulling from multiple sources to meet their unique needs. The closing speaker, Andrea Gappmayer from Carrot Culture, shared simple thoughts on recognition and connecting successful recognition to bottom line performance.

Break out sessions focused on top diverse talent with Gerry Fernandez, founder of MFHA; leadership for the QSR manager with Joleen Flory, CEO of the Elliott Leadership Institute; and bringing the “A Game” for frontline employees with Eric Chester of Generation Why.

A panel with Jose Tomas, senior vice president of human resources for Burger King, Jeff Sinelli, CEO and founder of Which Wich, and Amanda Hite, founder of Talent Revolution focused the audience on the connection between the consumer and employee brand with all panelists sharing the importance of building a message that is transparent and aligned both internally and to the consumer.

One of the top rated presentations of the conference was a panel of hourly shift leaders facilitated by Kathleen Wood, CEO of Kathleen Wood Partners and the former COO of Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers. The diverse panel shared an enthusiastic view of their work and the importance they place on knowing guests even in a fast paced QSR environment. They also shared how much value they place on serving their crew members daily and how this bond creates a place they want to work for the rest of their careers. When Wood asked, “What is the one thing you wish you could do for your crew members?” the panel unanimously responded that more opportunities for recognizing great performance and health benefits would be the top two things on their lists.

People Report founder and CEO, Joni Doolin stated, “This is a very special event for People Report. Last year, with the help of our QSR and fast casual members, we recognized a need for an event specifically designed to help this group of companies come together and focus on the unique and challenging workplace issues that they face. The community built by the conference attendees is inspiring to witness, and People Report is proud to be associated with such a dedicated group of operators and human resource executives.”

The QSR Workforce Symposium would not be possible without generous support from the presenting partner, QSR Magazine, as well as founding platinum partners Coca-Cola Foodservice and Kronos for Dining. Gold partners, Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance, Snag-a-Job, and Women’s Foodservice Forum, as well as Silver partners, Fishbowl Marketing, Job App Network, and Orangetree Employment Screening while Bronze partners, Self Opportunity and Sysdine People Resource Management, also helped in making the event a success.

The 3rd Annual QSR Workforce Symposium will be hosted at the Las Colinas Marriott on June 9th and 10th, 2009. Look forward to another action packed, thought-provoking agenda.