IFMA's 61st Annual Gold & Silver Plate Awards

With presence across the nation, a menu of comfort food, and all-day breakfast available 24/7, Denny’s has become America’s diner. But that certainly doesn’t mean soggy pancakes, stale coffee and smoky booths. Denny’s, like many other successful restaurants over the past decade, has evolved to meet consumer demands. And it has done so gracefully, without losing its voice or brand ethos.

Denny’s evolution has significantly ramped up in the past few years under the strategic direction of Denny’s President and Chief Executive John Miller. Under this management, Denny’s Restaurants has successfully rolled out a Millennial-focused, fast casual branch-off for college campuses called The Den. It has also gone through a significant real estate remodeling and rebranding, has added healthier options to its menus, and has even opened an upscale diner in Manhattan, complete with a full bar.

It’s this spirit of innovation that encapsulates what it means to be deemed an International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) Gold Plate Award Winner, an honor that Miller received at this year’s 61st Annual Gold & Silver Plate Awards celebration.

The Gold & Silver Plate Awards are to foodservice operations what the James Beard Awards are to culinary.

IFMA’s Gold & Silver Plate Awards

On May 18th, 2015, during the week of the NRA Show, the Great Hall at Union Station in Chicago — with large pillars, a grand staircase, historic architecture, and high, detailed ceilings — was transformed into pure elegance. Guests, donned in black-tie attire, enjoyed a cocktail reception and step-and-repeat before dinner, when the awards ceremony kicked off.

As one of the most prestigious awards in the foodservice industry, IFMA honors Silver Plate Awards in seven different operator categories — Business & Industry, Chain Fast Service, Chain Full Service, Colleges & Universities, Elementary & Secondary Schools, Healthcare, and Independent Restaurants. A selection jury, made up of past Silver Plate Award winners, foodservice experts and national trade press editors, secretly votes for one of those candidates to be its Gold Plate Award winner. 

As stated above, John Miller, who was nominated by Basic American Foods and The Coca-Cola Company for the Chain Full Service category, was awarded this highly acclaimed honor for 2015. 

As President, Chief Executive and a member of Denny’s Board of Directors, Miller leads the strategic direction of Denny’s Restaurants, a company he has been with since February 2011. With more than 30 years of experience in restaurant operations and management under his belt, Miller’s past affiliations include Taco Bueno Restaurants, where he was CEO, and Brinker International, where he held various management positions, including two President roles — at both Romano’s Macaroni Grill and Brinker’s Mexican Concepts.

Of winning the award, Miller says, “What’s going through my heart is how thankful I am to have had such great mentors and supporters through the years, and I just want to pay it forward.”

2015 Silver Plate Award Winners

Also in the running were 2015 Silver Plate winners Kat Cole, President at FOCUS Brands (Chain Limited Service); Michael C. Gibbons, President & CEO at Mainstreet Ventures (Independent Restaurants); Edward Sirhal, President at Restaurants Associates (Business & Industry); Nona Golledge, Director at Kansas University Dining (Colleges & Universities); Julie Jones, Director of Nutrition Services at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center (Healthcare); and Mary A. Hill, Executive Director of Food Services at Jackson Public Schools (Elementary & Secondary Schools).

The Importance of IFMA to the Foodservice Industry

Foodservice is a $600 Billion industry. And while, sure, everyone eats, everyone also has a choice of what they want to eat and how they want to eat it. With so much competition amongst chains and independent restaurants, that $600 Billion price tag is a reminder that there’s a lot of responsibility to uphold in this arena. Add a slew of uncontrollable factors, like the economy, on top of that, and you can see why success in this industry is highly commendable.

Working in foodservice comes with many challenges. At the core: how to keep customers happy, and continue to bring in new ones, while maintaining the core voice and ethics of your brand. 

But it’s not just operators and front-line management that are facing challenges — it’s the widely diverse foodservice industry, which is made up of a lot of moving parts — manufacturers and suppliers, vendors, educators, management, consultants, directors, nutritionists, and the list goes on.

IFMA’s goal, as Loren Kimura, the 2014 chairman of IFMA’s Board of Directors and CEO of Basic American Foods, says, is to bring these diverse players in the foodservice industry into the same conversation. This not only allows for discussions of future possibilities within the industry, but also makes room, synergistically, to create a more valuable experience for guests all around the world. The end goal is to help foodservice industry professionals create greatness that will sway consumers to continue feeding the foodservice industry. 

IFMA creates that support group amongst a wide array of professionals, provides resources to build a better future in foodservice, all while encompassing its message of community.

IFMA can teach us a lot about business and relationships — no matter what field you’re in. Because at the end of the day, it’s about teamwork. According to IFMA’s website, “The International Foodservice Manufacturers Association enables you to sit at the table with other leaders and ask the questions that help change the foodservice industry beyond what any of us could do individually.”

History in the Making

IFMA Gold & Silver Plate Award winners from the past include greats like Richard Melman (1989), J.W. Marriott Jr. (1993), Ruth Fertel (1995), Danny Meyer (2000), John C. Metz Jr. (2013), Charlie Trotter (2008), Dave Thomas (1979), Thomas Monaghan (1984), Steve Ells (2003) and Don Fox (2013), just to name a few.

While a main end goal in this industry is, of course, to feed the customer, there’s a sense of craftsmanship that one must exude to achieve greatness and prestige. And perhaps success is not all about fast service and quality food, though that’s part of it. All of the acclaimed legends in foodservice must feed themselves — and their teams — not just with covers and sales and guest counts, but first and foremost, with the belief that anything is possible.

Because, as IFMA is known for saying, “The impossible will remain until someone asks, What IF?”