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

Sessions: Reviewing the list of educational sessions, there were a select few that sounded like they could have applicability for non-commercial operators. The sessions that I thought sounded best for the onsite industry included sessions on ethnic food trends. There were several sessions on sustainability, but the non-commercial side of the industry is so far ahead of the restaurant side, I was surprised they hadn’t asked some non-commercial operators to give the presentations. The same could be said for healthy menus. There were a few sessions on managing young employees as “Understanding Millennials in the Workplace,” which I think would definitely be valuable for C&U operators and possibly healthcare and B&I as well.

Conclusion: So is the NRA show worth it for non-commercial operators? From the industry members I talked to while at the show, the answer would be a resounding yes, but not for the most apparent reasons. It seems the operators who get the most out of the NRA are the ones who use it as an opportunity to be exposed to new flavors and ways of doing business. Camp Howard, director of Campus Dining at Vanderbilt University, who also has a chef background, told me he likes to use the NRA as an opportunity to try the latest restaurants in Chicago in the hope they inspire his team to try new things on their own menus. He and his team even keep a running tally of all the different species of animal they eat during their trip—they were up to 16 on Sunday night. While travel budgets are tight, it’s easy to see why many non-commercial operators save those dollars for their own segments’ conferences, but I would conclude that the National Restaurant Show is where you send your team if you want them to think outside the box and be inspired by something completely different. After all, the NRA is changing its approach to the non-commercial industry, giving the innovators in the field their due. Kennesaw State University won this year’s Innovator of the Year award, and the previous two years have seen non-commercial operators win the prestigious IFMA Gold Plate award. Since the NRA has begun to embrace non-commercial a little more, I think it’s worth it for those operators to do the same. 

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