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MN Hospitality Conference Wrap-up

Chris Schmidt, division chef for US Foods, shares items from the distributor’s new Scoop lineup, including those developed in partnership with Marcus Samuelsson, such as a par-fried chicken thigh and Addis-style spice blend.

Social media and employment were just two of the topics covered during the Minnesota Hospitality Conference & Expo held October 5.

“Social media marketing is outside in,” said Jennifer Lueck, “meaning what are people saying about you and how can you participate in and influence those conversations.”

Lueck, of strategic marketing and PR group Strategy Factory, was on hand with Eater Twin Cities writer Alex Lodner and Instagram influencer Kim Ly Curry to talk about how restaurants can use social media influencers to their advantage. The three recently formed influencer-focused marketing agency Strategic Socials.

Lodner advised restaurants to curate the influencers they interact with on social media. “Make sure they’re a good match for your brand,” she said. “Those influencers are in turn going to have followers who want your brand.”

When it comes to sponsored posts, Lueck said while it can “feel ugly, feel gross,” restaurant owners need to understand they’re not buying a glowing review or post, “you’re buying access to their followers.” 

Other tips for using influencers to the restaurant’s advantage: Host in-person events. Influencers “are invested and engaged in your brand—meet them,” said Lodner. Stay connected with influencers beyond one-off interactions by tagging them in your social media posts, sharing and liking their posts and keeping them in the loop on future events. 

Talent search

In today’s constant battle for talent, hospitality and foodservice employers aren’t just offering jobs, they’re offering opportunities—or at least they should be. 

That’s the message from Matt Klug, VP of human resources for restaurant chain Culver’s. Klug and Culver’s operations director, Steve Karls, were sharing tips and insight on sourcing and retaining talent and it’s a topic that got lots of attention as employers in the industry grapple with the continuing labor shortage. 

Restaurant employers in particular need to think beyond the hourly nature of most jobs, Klug said, and develop leadership positions for employees to grow into, along with considering other ways to attract talent such as flexible scheduling and meal discounts.

“Study your competition and what they’re offering and then see how you stack up,” advised Klug. “Assess what your reputation is in the employer space … ask your team what they think and want and allow for honest feedback.”

Another tactic is to increase employee engagement with the goal of higher employee retention. Tawnya Stewart, chief people and culture officer for Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures (Grand Casinos, Eddy’s Resort, hotels), said employers should “give some employee love and give them a sense of purpose.”

“Give employees a reason and a purpose and understanding of why their job is important,” she said. “Engagement needs to be intentional,” and can range from the necessary corporate training to reward trips, service awards and other employee-focused events.  

When it comes to finding employees—and getting them to actually apply—Benjamin Thoen encouraged businesses to take the humorous route with their job postings. The executive chef for Duluth-based Black Woods Group (Black Woods Grill & Bar, Tavern on the Hill, etc.) said restaurants should play up that they’re fun places to work and create ads that reflect their brand.

“Try a fun meme, that’s what standing out,” said Thoen. The restaurant group also promotes employee referrals and gives rewards if a referral gets hired. 

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