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Tastemakers; Culinary Tourism/ Boyne Appetit/ Service Standard

Rick Coates - January 17th, 2011
Last week I attended the the first Michigan Culinary Tourism Conference at the Kellog Center in East Lansing. It was a sold-out gathering of tourism leaders, culinary aficionados and others looking at how to incorporate this new tourism buzzword into their communities. Culinary tourism is not new, it has been an important amenity for the traveling public since the inception of tourism; but now it has become a main attraction.
One of the keynote speakers at the conference was Ari Weinzweig, a co-founder of Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor. Zingerman’s is an upscale food retailer that has created the benchmark in the culinary world for not only quality of product but quality of service. Weinzweig and his partners are in demand as consultants giving two-day seminars all over the country and his presentation captivated the audience. Zingerman’s little venture 30 years ago is now grossing close to $40 million annually. While 20% of that is mail order, the rest of their revenue is generated in Ann Arbor, making Zingerman’s one of the first culinary tourism destinations in that state.
While Zingerman’s has been asked to open operations elsewhere in the country they have refused to do so, instead focusing on their Ann Arbor operations that include a deli, a restaurant, creamery, coffee roasting, bakery, catering and most recently a candy making operation. The result is Zingerman’s has made Ann Arbor a culinary destination as people travel hundreds of miles to specifically visit.
While it is hard to pinpoint the first culinary destination in Michigan, Frakenmuth would have to be near the top of that list. Their chicken dinners are famous around the country and, partnered with the Bavarian theme and Christmas village, Frankenmuth has been one Michigan’s most popular culinary destinations over the years.

BOYNE Appétit
One of the darlings of the Michigan Culinary Tourism Conference was the contingent from Boyne City. A half dozen community leaders including their Chamber Director Jim Baumann didn’t wait until after the conference to launch their culinary tourism initiative; they came with ideas and even a catchy name. “Boyne Appétit” is the name of the new marketing campaign that Boyne City will be using to market culinary tourism in their region. The Boyne group handed Boyne Appétit buttons to conference attendees and caught the attention of conference organizers, including Melody Johnson of the International Culinary Tourism Association who singled out Boyne in her presentation.
Boyne City is anchoring their culinary tourism initiative with the Chef’s Challenge, a major culinary event that features Michigan foods, wine, beers and spirits in an “iron chef” style competition. But their initiative will be year-round, encompassing the many assets of the community including several eateries, such as the recently opened Cafe Santé, along with partnering with various cultural and recreational offerings.
Baumann and the others at Boyne have taken an open-minded approach to their new initiative, putting all ideas on the table. They are looking at developing a service standard and partnering with other communities in the region. During the conference when a longtime tourism leader suggested that the Chef’s Challenge was held at the wrong time of year (last weekend of April) to attract visitors to the area, the Boyne team responded: “That’s what is great about culinary tourism -- it is not weather dependent and we need to create opportunities to bring people here at times of the year that traditionally do not attract visitors.”

One topic arising from public comment was the establishment of a community or regional “service standard.” In his presentation, Ari Weinzweig said that at the end of the day, it is the service standard at Zingerman’s that sets them apart. This means, essentially, that you can offer the best products or the greatest meal, but without exceptional service you won’t create a memorable experience. Ultimately, any “culinary tourism initiatives” created in Northern Michigan will not be successful without an accompanying service standard.
About five years ago I wrote an article that service in Northern Michigan was average, basically giving the region a “C.” Two radio stations had online surveys after the article appeared, rating the service in Northern Michigan and their listeners came back with a “C” rating in both surveys. Having a Northern Michigan service standard will go a long way in improving the experience of not only our visitors but those who live here.
The best tourism destinations in the world often have service standards. Not only do restaurants and accommodations participate, but retailers and even law enforcement take part in seminars which are often held annually. Boyne City has said that creating a customer service standard will be a part of the Boyne Appétit culinary tourism initiative. Will others join them? --Rick Coates
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