The price of beef, the burdens of government regulation and consumer demand for information about where food comes from were among the hot topics at the 54th annual MUFSO SuperShow, which wrapped up on Tuesday in Dallas.

The event, produced by Nation’s Restaurant News in partnership with sister publications Food Management and Restaurant Hospitality, attracted around 1,000 attendees who spent three days sharing best practices and networking.

The conference’s three keynote addresses offered insight into the key areas of consumer behavior, leadership and food trends. New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg explained what’s behind the formation of habits and how restaurant operators can use that knowledge to teach employees willpower or influence consumer buying patterns. In her annual State of the Plate address, Nancy Kruse declared avocado the ingredient of the year and revealed other foods to watch. And basketball coach Rick Pitino spoke about the importance of humility and mastering the art of listening more than speaking.

In addition, Philip J. Hickey Jr., president and chairman of the National Restaurant Association and chairman of Miller’s Ale House, spoke of an industry under fire from special interest groups. In the end, he said, the best defense may be better communicating the message that those in foodservice are simply “hard working people trying to do the right thing.”

Basketball coach Rick Pitino gives his keynote address at MUFSO 2013

Hot issues were also discussed in panels throughout the event, with topics including “Strategies for Competing with the Big Guys;” “Leveraging the ACA to Benefit Your Business;” and “Addressing Hispanic Tastes and Trends,” sponsored by The Coca-Cola Company.

Facing regulatory challenges

In the panel “Managing Political, Economic and Commodity Headwinds,” Joe Taylor, vice president of corporate affairs for Brinker International Inc., said, “We are now a regulated industry.”

Federal, state and local regulatory moves, such as menu labeling, portion sizes, insurance, paid sick leave, the minimum wage and other developments, have all impacted foodservice, he said. To remain viable, operators must start connecting such policy issues to their profit-and-loss statements to determine the appropriate response.

That response might range from simply better monitoring of public policy, to more involvement with lobbying groups or better communication about the industry’s role in creating jobs and opportunity, he said.

Taylor said the industry is close to the cost-saving “tipping point” where technology may increasingly be used to replace jobs. The potential loss of employment in the restaurant industry and beyond could also negatively impact consumer spending at restaurants.

Malcolm Knapp, an industry and economic analyst as president of Malcolm M. Knapp Inc., said 2.3 million jobs were lost in the U.S. since 2007 because of uncertainty about the economy. More uncertainty will continue to thwart economic growth, he added.

“What is going on in Washington is really, really hurting,” said Knapp.