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Member Spotlight

This month’s Member Spotlight features Robert Wolkom, Director, Global Real Estate for Merck & Co. Robert answered several questions for us.

What do you see as the most important trend in the industry?
Technology and innovation that reduces operational cost while delivering a high level of service (micro markets, on-line ordering, etc.).  We have implemented a number of these programs and have had great success. It is amazing how many new technology driven opportunities have been brought to market in recent years. Also, the advent of robust POS systems that have the ability to speed customer check-out and provide fantastic reporting capabilities. These are all enablers that allow operators to manage business more effectively and efficiently.
In the past two years, you have attended 12 SHFM events! Which was your favorite to attend?
Wow, they were all terrific. I really enjoyed the national conference last year. The new format was great and the sessions and topics were very educational. I really liked the relaxed nature of the conference as well – it was a refreshing change. I really think the atmosphere helped to create an environment of collaboration and a fostering of many ideas.
Other than foodservice, what other duties or hospitality services do you oversee and how can SHFM help you balance these responsibilities while keeping foodservice in focus?
In addition to all dining related programs in North America, I have responsibility for conference and audio visual, banking and company stores. I also act in the capacity of a global COE. As someone who has worn many hats for years, it is very refreshing to see SFM add the “H”. So many more of us manage multiple disciplines these days. I saw the excitement, passion and knowledge the attendees and presenters brought to the table at last year’s national conference with our new direction. For me personally, knowing I have the ability to connect with so many other industry experts that may have concentrations in other disciplines provides a comfort level that I can get the information I need to make informed decisions. Further, I think moving the needle within the organization to present on topics outside the typical foodservice element will be extremely valuable in balancing my knowledge, especially in areas that I am new to.
What advice would you share with a young professional considering the hospitality/foodservice industry?
I often tell young talent that this business is tough but it can be very exciting and rewarding just the same. You have so many avenues to explore. I think the best advice is for those seeking a career in this industry to investigate multiple areas of interest, give them a try and ultimately you will find what suits you best.
You’ve been a member since 1995—what is your favorite aspect of SHFM?
The networking for sure. I cannot begin to tell you how many long-term business relationships I have formed through this organization. I am always amazed at the knowledge within the membership, and most importantly, the willingness to share - it’s invaluable! I have been involved with other organizations over the years but they do not have the same qualities as SHFM. I am proud to be a long time member.
What and where was the best meal you have ever had?
 The five course Chef’s Sampler at “The Dining Room” located on a little piece of paradise called Little Palm Island in the Florida Keys. The whole experience is a once in a life time event. I am not sure what was better the tropical location and view or the fabulous food!

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