NRA show for non-commercial. Worth it?

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

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.


More From FoodService Director

Managing Your Business
coffee barista

Whether it’s a morning routine, an afternoon pick-me-up or an evening social ritual, few things are as universally appealing as coffee. Sixty-five percent of respondents in Technomic’s 2016 Beverage Consumer Trend Report say they ordered a cup of hot joe from a foodservice location in the past month, and 59% say the same about cold coffee. Everyone has an opinion about what makes it good, whether it’s a low price, a unique blend or a friendly barista.

“Coffee is so personal. There are a lot of people that are Dunkin’ fans. There’s a lot of Starbucks people,” says James Dravenack,...

Ideas and Innovation
star wars storm trooper

My favorite event—because I’m kind of dorky—is our “May the fourth be with you” (aka “Star Wars”) day on May 4. The whole dining team dresses up, and we offer things like Chewbaklava, Boba Fettuccine and BB-8 Buckeyes. We had a guest cry because they got to take a picture with Chewy.

Menu Development
spilled coffee beans glasses

Following an initial test at the end of May, Starbucks announced that more than 500 of its stores will be pouring nitro coffee by the end of summer. Capitalizing on the cold-brew coffee trend—which reached $7.9 million in sales in 2015 on 115% growth from the previous year, according to researcher Mintel—select U.S. cafes will give up the counter space to serve the creamy, nitrogen-infused java made from the cold-brew base. But how did nitro become the hottest new thing in coffee?

Bringing the bar to coffeehouses

It was the chrome double tap, similar to a bar’s beer tap, and the...

Ideas and Innovation
tray number

We created lucky tray days to help create an experience surrounding our brand. The trays are numbered; we pick a number and the winner receives a free lunch. We’ve enlisted the help of one of our coaches, who calls out the random lucky winner, and it drums up a lot of excitement.

FSD Resources