Stephen Barth is a familiar face to chain beverage execs. As the founder of HospitalityLawyer.com and the Hospitality Law Conference, he is the leading expert on hospitality legal and regulatory issues, not to mention a professor at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, University of Houston, where he teaches courses in hospitality law and leadership. That expertise, combined with more than 20 years of experience managing people in private business, makes him a sought-after speaker. Add to that his dynamic and motivating presentation style, and the VIBE Conference attendees are in for a treat when he takes the stage as Master of Ceremonies for the two-day confab. We caught up with him as he was preparing for the big event.
VIBE: You’re the VIBE Master of Ceremonies this year — what are you most looking forward to about that task?
Stephen Barth: I’ve already enjoyed the task as I’ve gotten to be in touch with all the speakers, and everyone is excited. There seems to be a whole lot of energy going on this year, and I’m anxious to be a part of that energy! It seems to me everyone’s confidence level took off after the first of the year - people are busier than ever and a lot of the economy is driven by confidence. So we’re going to have a really energetic, uplifting event in Vegas.
VIBE: You’re also moderating the “How to Win from Winners” panel, which is sure to be a hot session. What can attendees expect to take away from that discussion?
Barth: What a cool opportunity to get practical tips from the people who have done it and done it well! We’ll focus not just on theoretical constructs, but the journey of how did we get from where we were to where we are today; it will essentially be a gap analysis so folks can see what it took to get to the top. These people churn out great results because they surround themselves with great people and great ideas, and we’ll explore what it takes to get there and stay there.
VIBE: This event is all about beverage execs networking and learning from one another. Why is that particularly important in today’s environment?
Barth: The world moving so quickly today, which makes it important to keep up with everything but difficult to do on your own. An opportunity like VIBE is unique because you’ll get to hear best practices, see what everyone is doing – it’s amazingly valuable. Everyone needs to benchmark against industry leaders, see the latest in technology and products out there to give them the solutions and tools to do their job even better. You’ll get it all in one place at VIBE. That convergence is so valuable.
VIBE: You are fresh from your own Hospitality Law Conference, and are always on top of the big legal and regulatory issues facing the industry. What are some of the issues chain beverage execs need to be aware of for 2011?
Barth: Well, there is a lot going on today. We’re starting to see a big push on ingredients and disclosure, and are going to see more litigation in this area, particularly since beverages have become relatively complex. Don’t ignore the discussion on ingredients, disclosure and allergies; make sure that information is available to your employees. We have to realize that the consumer typically does not know what’s included in a drink, so the bartender or the server must be educated about what’s involved in there so they can respond adequately to an inquiry.
Also, we’re seeing more sexual harassment cases arising in the restaurant and bar area recently. That means we need another round of focused education is in order, as is making sure zero tolerance policies are in place and that people have somewhere to go if they are feeling offended. An increased number of younger folks are now working in the industry, and some places have an intense alcohol environment, which can create a volatile mix that can lead to harassment. Also, Internet cell phones and photo capabilities lead to people forwarding inappropriate images and texts – the bottom line is that there has to be training. Last but not least is the use of social media by employees. Operators must have some policies and guidelines in place for what’s acceptable and what’s not.
VIBE: Certainly a lot of big issues, and VIBE promises to be jam-packed with information and networking. What should attendees do to prepare for VIBE?
Barth: Come, be ready to learn and have fun! You’ll be doing both of those things and it will be a great environment and great take-aways.
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