Learn 2021 Will Strength Train Your Industry Knowledge for Economic Endurance

By Bridget McCrea and Tim O’Connor

Through featured live product presentations, Product Educator Booths, insights on operator trends from our nation’s top restaurant leaders, industry partner conversations, and sessions on modern sales strategies, leadership, and digital marketing, FEDA’s Learn 2021 conference will help foodservice equipment distributors and their teams build business strength.

Over the next pages, find out how the conference will flow and what it will include, beginning with the May 11 opening session. FEDA council and committee meetings will also be a part of the conference and take place the day before, May 10, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. CDT.

Tom Bené Keynote Presentation

The National Restaurant Association’s president and CEO will highlight the organization’s current initiatives and explain how it’s helping the restaurant industry get back on its feet in 2021.

To say the nation’s restaurant industry had a tough year in 2020 would be a major understatement. Gut punched by the COVID pandemic, subsequent shutdowns, and shifting customer preferences, hospitality-focused organizations came into 2021 with new hope for the future and a resolve to overcome the challenges placed before them.

As the largest foodservice trade association in the world, the National Restaurant Association faced these challenges alongside the 500,000 businesses that it represents and advocates on behalf of. For 2021, NRA president and CEO Tom Bené says the first order of business will be to get more stimulus assistance for an industry hit hard by the pandemic.

“The restaurant industry has been devastated and by no fault of its own,” says Bené. He adds that the association was glad to see the second batch of PPP funds released in December, but that it won’t be “nearly enough to support the industry during this period.”

In addition to seeking additional funding, the association has been working on key issues like reopening guidance and ensuring that operators have the tools and support needed to safely reopen.

Through a partnership known as the “ServSafe Dining Commitment,” the NRA has been working with several large product brands to help educate consumers on how safe restaurant dining is, and encourage them to come back and see for themselves.

“We’ve also been working with our members on programs to accelerate their takeout and delivery services, and partnering with other organizations on initiatives like ‘Cocktails To Go,’” Bené explains. “It’s all in the name of helping restaurants survive while also trying to drive additional financial support for them through the legislative process.”

Answering the Call

The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, the association’s philanthropic arm, raised about $22.5 million through its Restaurant Employee Relief Fund in 2020. Those funds were distributed in the form of grants to employees who were impacted (financially or by another hardship) during the early stages of the pandemic. “We gave out a total of 46,000 grants,” Bené says.

The Foundation also provides scholarships and apprenticeship opportunities for individuals interested in a career in the restaurant industry. In January, for example, the application process for this year’s Educational Foundation Scholarship Program opened up. “These are just a few of the Foundation initiatives that are designed to support workforce development,” Bené says.

Along with its traditional food safety and food safety development training certification, the association now offers career- development programs for restaurant and hospitality managers (both online and in-class). It also offers free courses on how to reopen a restaurant, operate that restaurant, and handle pandemic-centric conflicts (e.g., customers who refuse to wear masks). “We came up with training courses on how to deal with these types of situations,” says Bené, “and de-escalate them before they turn into major issues.”

Working Toward Diversity

A part of the association since 2019, the Multicultural Food Service and Hospitality Alliance (MFHA) helps to create opportunities for underrepresented groups to move up in the restaurant industry via tangible initiatives. Its key points of focus include creating leadership pathways; supporting communities (both geographic and people/groups); business and ownership development; and expanding representation at the board of directors and C-suite levels industrywide.

“I would argue that the restaurant industry has done better than most, at least in our overall representation,” says Bené. “However, there are always opportunities for improvement. Not only is the NRA taking a leadership role and making sure that we reflect the desired industry look and feel, but we’ll also be working with our members and others in the industry to build that out over the next couple of years.”

Addressing Changing Industry Needs

In assessing the core needs of the restaurant operator and how those needs have evolved over the last year, Bené says the association wants to make sure available financial resources come with a level of flexibility. The first round of PPP funds, for example, didn’t cover important investments like plastic shields, outdoor domes, PPE, and other innovations that have allowed them to stay open and generate at least some revenue during the pandemic.   

“As the industry continues to work its way through this, restaurant operators continue to evolve their models. They need support in that regard and not just financial, but they look to groups like ours to also help them navigate those complexities,” says Bené. The association, he adds, is partnering with government agencies like the EPA, FDA, USDA, and CDC to ensure that the “guidelines put in place are also supporting the restaurant industry.” 

As restaurants continue to hone their models around these complexities, some are expanding their takeout operations while others are exploring options like ghost kitchens. Bené says the organization is supporting its members along these journeys, which frequently require partnerships with food equipment distributors and other suppliers. Knowing this, he expects organizations like FEDA to play a key role both in the recovery process and the post-COVID environment.

“We’ve seen some great examples of distributors offering more flexibility during this time, and also helping our members rethink their physical footprints and the required equipment,” says Bené. “In some cases, the answer lies in multi-purposing equipment in a way that not only allows operators to serve within their four walls, but also expand their delivery businesses.”

Learn more about the NRA, its members’ needs and new partnerships during the Learn 2021 opening session on May 11 at 10:30 a.m. CDT.

Opening Remarks
Tuesday, May 11, 2021
10:30 a.m. to 11:35 a.m. CDT

FEDA Board Chairman Michael Keck will open Learn 2021 with welcoming remarks and his insights on the industry’s post-pandemic recovery. Keck will be joined by conference sponsors, featured foodservice equipment presenters, and keynote speaker Tom Bené, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association (NRA), who will outline the NRA’s recovery response, new operator needs and trends, and opportunities for collaboration. 

Featured Product Presentations
Tuesday, May 11
10:30 a.m. to 11:35 a.m. CDT 

As foodservice equipment sales are dealers’ core business, product education will be a key component of Learn 2021. During each of the opening sessions, two of the industry’s top manufacturers will highlight featured foodservice equipment, which has been selected for its particular relevance in today’s market.

Attendees who participate in all four “Featured Product Presentations” and complete the follow-up tests may receive 0.50 credits toward the FEDA Product Education Certification.

Partner Exchange Sesssions
Tuesday, May 11,
11:40 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. CDT 

These three concurrent sessions will connect foodservice equipment distributors, manufacturers, and other supply chain partners for discussions on new operator challenges as presented by Tom Benè in his keynote presentation. Facilitators will walk attendees through tough questions designed to identify potential short-term and long-term solutions for supply chain recovery and revisions on behalf of the operator.

The sessions will be facilitated by David Greene of DDI System, Brian Kadel of ITW Food Equipment Group, and Steve Willoughby of Jackson WWS. Although each session will have a distinct group of participants, they will touch on similar topics, such as how distributors can provide more financial flexibility to operators as the industry recovers and how equipment sellers can help restaurants identify multi-use equipment and reimagine their product choices for smaller physical spaces, such as ghost kitchens. The discussions will then tap into how channel partners at every stage of the supply chain, from manufacturer to service rep, can realign their procedures and practices to better address those operator challenges and provide a more cohesive customer experience.


Product Educator Booths
Tuesday, May 11: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. CDT
Wednesday, May 12: 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. CDT

Foodservice equipment manufacturers will share featured product videos and interact face-to-face with conference participants through FEDA’s new Product Educator Booths. These booths will highlight a mix of the equipment most sought by operators and provide important product updates. Dealers won’t want to miss visiting these new virtual booths and connecting with key manufacturers.

Modern Sales Strategies Panel with Q&A
Wednesday, May 12
10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. CDT

Sales leaders at foodservice equipment distribution companies will share how their teams are using technology and digital tools from the beginning of the sales process through post-sale service to build new business and increase overall sales. Learn how to:

  • Develop and qualify better leads in less time.
  • Automate how you market to new prospects and existing customers.
  • Monitor and follow up with online shoppers to provide sales support as soon as it’s needed.
  • Move sales to closing more quickly.
  • Provide immediate customer service after purchases to encourage additional and future buys.

Young Industry Leaders Q&A with Robert Herjavec
Wednesday, May 12
12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m. CDT

Shark Tank’s Robert Herjavec, previously a keynote speaker at the 2020 FEDA Virtual Annual Conference, is back for an engaging and interactive Q&A discussion facilitated by FEDA’s Young Industry Leaders with moderator Heather Kogan, vice president of sales at The Sam Tell Companies. Kogan will guide participants through a conversation with Herjavec about how to think like an entrepreneur and leader to help your CEO move the company forward, especially now, when strong and innovative business recovery and growth strategies are so urgently needed.

The discussion will cover crucial questions businesses are asking as they look forward to an economic rebound, such as:

  • How can I identify when my business is ready to move out of preservation mode and back into expansion?
  • What do leaders need to know to be realistic about where their business stands?
  • How can businesses set achievable goals with so much uncertainty ahead for the foodservice industry?
  • How can companies identify the new normal and adapt to it?
  • If a business implemented a new program or began a new initiative as a response to COVID-19, how can it build on that idea after the pandemic is over?

All attendees are encouraged to participate.

Mentor Up Mentor Down
Wednesday, May 12,
2:45 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. CDT

CEOs and young leaders from foodservice equipment distribution will describe their own successful real-world examples of learning from each other to lead together and make their companies stronger.

The session will feature one executive and two emerging leaders from two FEDA member companies: Burkett Restaurant Equipment & Supplies and Zepole Restaurant Supply. Each team will detail how their senior leaders work with young professionals to create and embrace a shared vision for their organization, and how mentors and mentees engage in two-way learning to develop best practices, foster career growth, and implement initiatives that make their company stronger.