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TIME FOR A CHANGE: 2023 ECEP Symposium

Where Trends in Business are Explored and Legacies are Forged


Leaders in hospitality | Top Catering Symposium | Top Caterers in the United States | Top Caterers in the US | Best Hospitality Organizations | Top Hospitality Organization | Elite Caterers + Event Professionals | ECEP Symposium | Education for Hospitality Leaders
For the founders of ECEP, change is as fun as being on trend with the latest big idea and as serious as a symposium of non-stop action to affect steadfast and long-lasting change. From left to right: Ben Witte, Proof of the Pudding, Adam Noyes, Proof of the Pudding, John Crisafulli, Behind the Scenes Catering, Susan Lacz, Ridgewells Catering, Brandon Maxwell, M Culinary Concepts, Michael Stavros, M Culinary Concepts

What does change look like? What does it take to make it happen? It’s never been more important for the hospitality industry to define change, if not actually make it. It’s time for change to look, feel, sound, and happen differently.


That’s what electrified the founders of Elite Caterers + Event Professionals (ECEP) two years ago to begin a new organization that could access and lobby for change on a granular (company by company) and on a macro level (in Congress for national change).


This March, 70 of ECEP’s members and their teams met beneath the snow-capped mountains of Palm Springs. The weather was perhaps the only element not on a schedule that featured back-to-back sessions and events designed to foster conversation and change. Like the rain that fell, ideas flowed, hot topics were hashed out and certain themes for change in 2023 and 2024 began to emerge.


Hot Topic: Getting a Pulse on the Market


While the hospitality industry has come back with a vengeance after Covid, the labor market has not kept pace. Many members of ECEP hire hundreds of people a month to work on mega events, as well as to staff commissaries serving large amounts of food a day. To understand and get a pulse on the market, members heard from Daniel Altman, Chief Economist from Instawork.


Current challenges in 2023:

· Inflation now exceeds staffing as top challenge.

· The shortfall in labor will result in half of all businesses raising wages in 2023


Looking ahead:

· Most businesses anticipate higher revenue in 2023

· USDA midpoint projection have most food prices stable or decreasing

· Bottom line is that hospitality businesses expect higher revenue in 2023 despite economic headwinds


Topic: Mind Your Business

Most member companies of ECEP have multiple divisions and span a multitude of markets. One of the biggest challenges is how to promote all these divisions to the right client and audience. Sometimes it’s about cross promoting them, and other times, it’s about keeping them separate from one another.


John Crisafulli, owner of Behind the Scenes Catering in San Diego, California, led a breakout session on this hot topic. He began by talking about why RFPs for very large business don’t come in through his website by design. “Only 10 percent of our market is social,” he said, “But our website is aimed at them, not the mega events.”


Social and wedding clients are not only confused by a company that caters to intimate events and to LIV Golf Tournaments, he said, but could be put off by it. This was the consensus by many ECEP members. The solution? Separate brands, websites and even leadership for each brand to avoid identity confusion.



Hot Topic: Branded Custom Social Media


One of the hot topics was social media. Yes Instagram and Tik Tok were brought up for relevancy and what type of client they attract. But the bigger story was the internally facing social media that ECEP members were adopting to create team building.


While many use Meta Workplace which is easy to use since, as a Facebook product, it operates much the same way that platform does. It can be customized and used internally but it still operates on that platform.


M Culinary Concepts has taken social media to its own platform by building its own social media app through Hub Engage. The app is an interactive employee engagement platform. It can be fully branded, which M Culinary has done, and enables the company to connect its many employees across all its divisions, fostering communication through all its features such as push notifications, gamification with points / gift cards and more.


Michael Stavros and Brandyjo Guzman held breakout sessions on how the company is using the app to encourage members from different teams to engage with one another. Points attached to rewards are given for posting or sending high fives. It’s been a game changer for internal team building.


Hot Topic: Engaging Existing Clients


The marketing team of Elise Luna and Carizza Rose from 24 Carrots led several breakout sessions, sharing reams of information on how the Costa-Mesa based firm produces successful marketing campaigns within and without the company.


One of the top takeaways from a session on how to engage existing clients talked about empowering teams to recognize an opportunity for an impactful moment. Another discussion centered around creating client advisory boards and the pros and cons of that. The bottom line was about ensuring that company culture is set up to place more emphasis on creating moments rather than simply giving things to best clients.


Leaders in hospitality | Top Catering Symposium | Top Caterers in the United States | Top Caterers in the US | Best Hospitality Organizations | Top Hospitality Organization | Elite Caterers + Event Professionals | ECEP Symposium | Education for Hospitality Leaders
Pictured: Robert Owen Jackson, NAMA, Scott Halloran, Trolley Hospitality Companies, Carla Balakgne, CEO, NAMA

Hot Topic: ECEP Goes to Washington

There is a saying in Washington – “If you aren’t at the table, then you are on the menu.” That was the dramatic opening line from Carla Balakgne, CEO of the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) as she began her report to the members of ECEP. Last year, ECEP joined with NAMA in order do just that -- have a seat at the table in Washington. The relationship was forged by Scott Halloran from Trolley Hospitality Companies and its relationship with NAMA. The goal has been to strengthen the voice and power of the entire hospitality industry.


In their report, the representatives from NAMA updated the membership on bills facing Congress this year that will affect catering and hospitality businesses. These issues range from catering and cannabis in California to national catalytic converter theft to the Employee Retention Tax Credit which is still eligible to even those companies that took PPP.


The trio also gave ECEP members the website they have created expressly for NAMA so the group can track the progress of bills through the process: www.namanow.org/voice/ecep



Leaders in hospitality | Top Catering Symposium | Top Caterers in the United States | Top Caterers in the US | Best Hospitality Organizations | Top Hospitality Organization | Elite Caterers + Event Professionals | ECEP Symposium | Education for Hospitality Leaders
ECEP 2023 Symposium Swag Bag

Hot Topic: Setting the Tone with a Swag Bag


In this case, the attendee swag bag was also a “Shag Bag.” During site visits leading up to the event, the organizers discovered Shag -- a very Palm-Springs-centric art store down the street from the host hotel. The mid-century art and lifestyle brand was the perfect theme look for both the bag, and the stage backdrop featuring the ECEP logo and a cool character who looked much like the artist, Josh Agle (aka Shag).


Inside the bags, John Crisafulli from Behind the Scenes Catering and his team had assembled a perfect mix of items designed to lift the mood, or the headache, whichever was needed! From cannabis edibles to hydration enhancers to Motrin and items from Shark Tank, this Shag bag set the tone of Palm Springs chic.


Inside: Proud Source Spring Water, The Whole Shebang, Cannabis Chew, Chuao Chocolatier, Liquid IV – Hydration Multiplier from Cellular Transport Technology, Hot Hand, hand Warmers, Motrin, Cookies from Behind the Scenes Catering, Mexican Duros, LuminAid Twist, Portable Bluetooth Solar Lanterns (as seen on Shark Tank).


Swag bags like this are a fun way to add local flavor to a symposium and a way to make attendees feel welcome. Many of the products were used over the course of the three days as attendees were on the go all day with back-to-back educational sessions addressing all these hot topics and more.


At the ECEP 2023 Symposium, change was not only a word in the title, but an action the attendees took seriously.


In the final session it was revealed that Charleston, South Carolina would be the host city for 2024. More to come!

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