Pictured from left are the Association's Sweeney with panelists Cywinski, Edeker, Gheysens, and McEnery

With the foodservice landscape changing quickly, everyone in the industry is pondering what the future holds for business. During its annual trade show in Chicago, the National Restaurant Association addressed the issue head-on.

Dawn Sweeney, the Association’s president and CEO, led a May 19 panel on the future of dining that explored how chain leaders across all foodservice segments – from casual dining to upscale restaurants to C-stores and supermarkets – think the industry will act. All agreed that training, technology, and attention to quality and detail, would help set the table for success.

Joining Sweeney on the panel were John Cywinski of Applebee’s Bar & Grill, Randy Edeker of Hy-Vee Inc., Chris Gheysens of Wawa, and Tim McEnery of Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants.

Sweeney kicked off the presentation by introducing ServSuccess, the Association’s new workforce-development program designed to help prepare employees for career advancement. The program, through online instruction and official certification, will educate and prepare work staff so they can achieve promotions and build rewarding careers for themselves.

When asked for his advice about what skills employees need to succeed in the foodservice business, Cooper’s Hawk’s McEnery said they should express interest in lifelong learning, while Wawa’s Gheysens noted that companies tend to value employees who excel in leadership and emotional intelligence. Applebee’s Cywinski said the ability to connect with other people is key. Hy-Vee’s Edeker said he is extremely optimistic about the future of employment in the industry.

Regarding the future of off-premise delivery, Cywinski said Applebee’s expects that 25 percent of its business would be composed of off-premise orders within the next three years. He also noted that currently, 13 percent of the chain’s business comes from off-premise delivery orders.

The CEOs also agreed that catering to the needs of customers would keep businesses both relevant and successful. Gheysens said Wawa is intent on satisfying its customers and ensuring they feel as though they are the chain’s No. 1 priority. Edeker added that responding to customers’ needs and desires would result in their continued business and loyalty. It would attract new guests, too.