Bad Girl, Good Business

No Reservations: 3 Days at the National Restaurant Show

“I’m going to the NRA Show,” I mentioned to colleagues.

“I didn’t know you were into guns,” they replied. Despite the confusing acronym (NRA is the National Restaurant Association), the only shots that were fired this week were the ones in the Bar section of the show, as attendees sampled the latest liquor brands and mixers.

From the first POS (that’s point-of-sale) demo to the last PIB (that’s pig in blanket), the show was astounding in many ways. I’ve been to big trade shows before. In fact, when I worked in the industry I attended some behemoths. But this one was truly fascinating — perhaps because the food industry touches so many other industries. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be focusing on specific topics related to the restaurant world, but this post is just about the show itself.

It was a pleasant change from the tech conferences I’ve been attending as of late. After all, no one was offering spicy peanut tofu or warm chocolate chip cookies at Collision or Marketo Nation Summit. Perhaps tech exhibitors have yet to apply the age-old intelligence that no matter how cool your product, free food is still the biggest booth draw!

A few observations:

  • The food industry is a bit late to the technology wave (among small and mid-sized businesses), but is catching up fast. The tech section of the show floor was labeled “Innovation,” despite the fact that most of the technologies have actually been in existence for more than five years. As Millennials become business owners and managers, the incorporation of automation into restaurant operations will be the main course — not icing on the cake.
  • Demographic changes to the population are having a huge impact on food preferences — both what people are eating and how they want to be served. Healthy options abound, as do global options. And apps that can deliver “instant reservations,” and deals abound. We are what we eat and we eat what we are (or something like that). Employers flocked to conference sessions to learn how the influx of Gen Zers into the population will affect their hiring and management practices.
  • The show organizers seemed to underestimate the restaurant industry’s appetite for learning and trends.  A couple of the sessions I attended were standing room only. (Perhaps they need to take reservations or have two “seatings.”)
  • I don’t use the word “awe” lightly, but I am still a bit awe-struck when I see a show of this magnitude and realize that restaurant owners have to worry about everything from pest control to investments in new kitchen equipment — from labor law changes to floor mats and furniture. When we sit down to eat a pile of fries, we don’t really think deeply about how it got on our plate.

But someone had to.

Here’s to the hardworking restaurant owners (and show organizers) who make our meal time simpler, fresher, tastier, and more pleasant (and who use technology to ensure our check is on time and accurate!)

The next “course”: An Overview of Restaurant Tech

Show Floor Highlights:

 


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