NRA show for non-commercial. Worth it?

Lindsey Ramsey hunts for non-commercial value at the restaurant world’s largest conference.

By Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

I’ve just returned from my third National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, and I’m conflicted about what I saw. I was tasked with looking at the show through the lens of a non-commercial operator to decide once and for all if a trip to this show is worth it for those on the non-restaurant side of the business. I traipsed through the show floor looking at technology, sampling way too many slices of pizza and French fries and speaking to the non-commercial operators who did make the trek. I also took a gander at the educational sessions the conference had planned to see if any might be relevant to any of FSD’s market segments. Below are my findings and conclusion.

Show Floor, Food: With the move to more and more from-scratch cooking in many operations, the show floor doesn’t offer much up on the food front for non-commercial operators beyond booths promoting specific ingredients. However, it is a great place to get ideas for your own spins on the latest in prepared foods. I sampled a baked potato pizza, which I’m surprised I haven’t seen on a C&U late-night menu yet. Ethnic flavors were everywhere—Greek and Japanese being two that got more play than in recent years. Plus, for those operators with c-store/retail units that sell prepared foods, the floor offers a lot to consider. I saw a lot of items that could do really well in college c-store units, especially those that are trying to increase their offerings of foods that can be taken to go. Blount Fine Foods had a very attractive display of refrigerated soups that I could see doing well in hospital, C&U or B&I c-stores. Even schools might find soups that meet their strict health requirements, which could be sold in snack shops. Health was also everywhere in terms of food products on the show floor. Again, if an operator is stocking healthy products in c-store and retail units, then they might have found value in seeing what products are available in that regard. But seeing as many non-commercial operators prefer to cook their own healthy items, the better to control the food’s health factor, there wasn’t much that stood out to me in terms of healthy products.

Show Floor, Equipment: Now I can see how browsing the new equipment on the show floor is definitely worthwhile for operators who are looking into doing renovations or new construction. The latest in ovens, dishwashing, stoves, appliances and more can inspire awe in even this equipment novice. What I was most impressed with, however, was the mobile technology such as apps that allow customers to order from their phones or tablets, which I can see will soon be the norm at college and universities, B&I locations and hospitals. The days of marking what you want on a paper menu at the hospital are numbered, and the NRA show offered a plethora of options for non-commercial operators to consider if they are willing to think outside the box. One company, MOpro, purports to build an operation’s full web profile, from its website to mobile apps to social media. The company’s presentation was clearly geared toward restaurants, but I could easily see a dining department being happy to have an expert build its business online.

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Keywords: 
technology