Lessons Learned from the Annual OCHMRA Spring Trade Expo

Many of us in the hospitality business make a point of going to the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (OCHMRA) Expo every year. It is a welcome respite from the day-to-day routine and provides much to observe and learn. (In years past, I learned not to eat so much fried food and to save the wine tasting for last.) This year my lessons include the need to embrace technology in order to run a better business and the importance of learning from industry insiders willing to share their expertise.

Take Advantage of Available Technology

Hospitality focused mobile phone apps are everywhere and they open up opportunities to engage customers that were impossible a few years ago. Today, customers cannot only call ahead to make a reservation or order takeout, but they can pay on their phone, eliminating the risk that the kitchen will make food that is never picked up. Apps can track customer spending habits and eating habits and enhance participation in your restaurant’s frequency and loyalty programs. The lesson from this year’s show: information is power; deploy your apps to tap that power before your competitors do.

Back-of-the-house technology marches forward as well. LCD screens are replacing printers in the kitchen as they improve accuracy, service, and table turns, while reducing food and labor costs. Convection ovens are moving toward oblivion and being replaced by Combi ovens that perform three functions: convection, steam, and combination cooking. The combination mode uses both dry heat and steam to maintain exact humidity levels, giving you more control of the moisture levels in food. There are also programmable ovens resembling very large microwaves that provide radiant, microwave, and convection cooking. Combi ovens make training kitchen staff easier, produce less food waste, and, best of all, cook a perfectly broiled crab cake in just three minutes. They are consistent every single time. The lesson: in order to innovate, you must keep an open mind, and tasting is believing.

It’s the Execution that Matters

I had the opportunity to lead a number of Expo seminars focused on such topics as service improvements, persevering through credit card regulations, and executing a killer beverage program to drive higher revenues. The discussions on these topics are always great, and I’m certain everyone takes away at least a few ideas to improve their operations. What is most rewarding, however, are the tweets and emails I receive throughout the year from participants describing how they put the concepts we discussed into practice and the impact on their business. The lesson is clear: while anyone can attend to hear ideas, only those who commit to execution will see the benefits.

Closing Thoughts:

Hospitality is a tough business that teaches us all lessons. The Expo always produces ideas that can help those who listen improve profitability, be more hospitable, and create relationships with professionals who genuinely want to help you and your business. Sadly, and for a multitude of reasons, not everyone will take advantage of the tools it provides. If you’d like help becoming one of who will, let me know. I am easy to find and will always respond quickly.

About the Author

Henry Pertman is Director, Hospitality Consulting at CohnReznick LLP, located in the firm’s Baltimore, Md. office. He can be contacted at 410-783-4900 or

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