Q&A with LINQuest Keynote Speaker, Kern Halls

We are less than two weeks away from the first LINQuest 2019 Conference in Charlotte, NC! One of the things we’re most looking forward to about LINQuest is getting to hear the keynote presentation by industry thought leader, Kern Halls. Kern is the Chief Innovator at Ingenious Culinary Concepts where he has helped nutrition departments across the country overcome their biggest challenges. The Meals Plus team had the chance to talk with Kern before the conference to learn more about him and what we can expect from LINQuest 2019.

Q: What do you enjoy most about consulting with school nutrition departments?

A: “What I appreciate most about consulting with school nutrition programs is that I have a chance to help increase the number of students who dine in the program. Our company is designed to assist public school cafeteria programs to improve the products and services they provide to students. We support districts nationwide through: consulting/side-by-side coaching, training/professional development, cafeteria redesigns, promotions, and strategic marketing solutions. I visit so many unique districts and speak with their end user, “the customer,” to gather their perspectives, input, and feedback on ways school foodservice professionals can improve service.”

Q: What do you think are some of the best innovative trends right now for school nutrition departments?

A: “Identifying the most innovative trends currently can be tricky because it is two-fold. On one hand, I suggest school districts invest in themselves by utilizing products such as digital signage, or a menu app because students are tech-savvy, making it essential to cater to their needs utilizing technology. Student customers have everything at their fingertips, and as a result, they rarely have to wait on anything. A common approach in retail establishments is knowing they have to fight for every customer. So, they pull out all the resources, everything from promotions to online ordering for their products or services. A couple of items school foodservice programs have (that they do not expand on) is service and customer traffic. Most programs have closed campuses and their customers are literally forced to come into the cafeteria or its surrounding vicinity. By offering a product that caters to the majority, participation numbers increase automatically. On the other hand, many programs have a brand and do not fully maximize on it. We must use the resource of engaging customers with excellent customer service. There are simple things frontline foodservice staff can do to include, saying “Good Morning”, and/or inquiring, “Will you be joining us for breakfast or lunch tomorrow?” Simple engagement techniques can increase customer loyalty.”

Q: What will you be discussing in your keynote presentation at LINQuest 2019?

A: “I will be sharing practical strategies to stay motivated and feed more student customers. My discussion will include insights on trends and techniques I’ve uncovered while successfully supporting directors nationwide.  I’ll share a range of proven, best practices and strategies districts can implement immediately, with little to no cost. For those directors who have excess funds to spend, I will share a host of ideas for them as well. There will be something for everyone!”

Q: What are you most excited about LINQuest 2019?

A: “This will be my first time attending LINQuest so I am eager to learn and meet the attendees. I hope to meet individuals from all over the country and hear their individual stories and learn of their “successes” (and “struggles”) to increase participation.”

Q: What does “The Smartest Lunchroom” mean to you?

A: “The Smartest Lunchroom for me means a few things:  First, do you have food products placed in the correct location so students have easy access to it? This is so important because we have to meet our customers where they are. This could include a mobile breakfast cart or any alternative point of sale (near the student parking lot at a high school). Second, what does the serving line look like? Are the milk containers still in the crate? Are containers unorganized on the line? We should take pride in merchandising our lines and mimicking the product displays students are accustomed to in the retail establishments they patronize outside of the school day. Finally, technology is a must for today’s student customers. Are there television monitors to display daily menu offerings? Is there an app for students to see what’s for lunch in advance? These are a few examples of what a smarter lunchroom means to me. I always give an example of how it’s imperative that today’s school foodservice industry ensures we adapt to changes in the marketplace. Why? Blockbuster Video was a great example of how the company should have merged into online platforms (when presented multiple opportunities), rather than remaining stagnant. Eventually, Netflix came along and successfully saturated the online market, making Blockbuster Video virtually obsolete. To avoid a similar fate, we must continue to look for opportunities even it takes us out of our comfort zones.”

Want your chance to meet Kern Halls and gain more insight on how to transform your cafeterias into The Smartest Lunchroom? There’s still time to register for LINQuest 2019 in Charlotte, NC on March 11, Columbus, OH on March 14, and Anaheim, CA on March 25. The LINQuest conferences are one-day events designed to help you improve your school nutrition operations and get the most out of your LINQ solutions while earning up to 4.5 CEUs. Click here to learn more about LINQuest 2019 and register now!