Takeaways from the NACUFS 2019 National Conference

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NACUFS LogoSchool may be out for summer, but soon college students will return to campus and when they do, they’re going to be hungry. The brave souls who feed the masses in collegiate dining facilities recently came together for their market’s premier event, the National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS) 2019 National Conference in Denver, Colorado. We were proud to take part and gained a number of valuable insights throughout the four-day event. Here are some of the top takeaways from this year’s conference:

Leadership takes the lead

As you would expect, much of the discussion taking place at the conference focused on the challenges and opportunities that are unique to the collegiate food service market. But we couldn’t help but notice another major theme that would apply to any industry: the need for strong leadership. Several of the week’s featured speakers talked about how organizations do their best work, and how leaders factor into those processes. These discussions made it clear that you can’t run a successful food service operation on culinary expertise alone. Food service professionals should consider how they communicate and what they can do to improve things for their teams.

The importance of data analytics

One key theme of the conference was the changing ways in which food service organizations are using data to improve operations. Exhibitors and featured speakers discussed the need for food service professionals to have robust data analysis capabilities and strategies. They talked about how, with the right tools, professionals can use Business Intelligence (BI) to make better decisions and improve efficiency. We also heard about the impact that advancements in AI technology are expected to make on the food service industry in the near future.

Real-life experiences

Conferences are great for networking and learning new things. But sometimes the information presented in seminars feels a little abstract and disconnected from the real world. That’s why it was so refreshing to actually get out and see best practices in action. This year’s conference featured several “edutours” that took attendees around town to investigate topics in a more natural setting.

In keeping with NACUFS’ focus, one tour visited the University of Colorado – Boulder’s dining facilities, which were included on the 2018 Good Food 100 Restaurants List. Attendees learned how the school’s 10 micro-restaurants create a culinary experience on campus, and how school leaders have used food service to foster community among students. Other edutours visited several restaurants and food halls in the Denver area to learn more about new trends in dining concepts.

Culinary challenge

One of the most exciting parts of the event was the 19th annual NACUFS Culinary Challenge. This cooking contest pitted six contestants against each other, with each chef asked to create an original recipe in the time allotted. The only other rule was that the chefs had to use the same mandatory ingredient: venison saddle. The chefs’ creations were extraordinary, and watching an Iron Chef-type contest in person was a fun way to cap off a great event.