Despite the threat of Tropical Storm Hanna, more than 550 exhibitors and 15,000 restaurant professionals turned out for the 2008 Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show and the co-located Orlando Pizza Show, held Sept. 5-7 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando.
Dozens of pizza-related vendors displayed their wares at the show. Liz Hertz, marketing manager for precooked meats producer Burke Corp., offered samples of some of the company's new products to show attendees.
"We have our new chorizo topping, which has been very popular, and also an all-beef Italian-style sausage, which is very popular as well," Hertz said. "A number of our customers are interested in using all-beef as opposed to pork for people who don't eat pork."
Noel Keyes of Corsail Imports LLC displayed Punto Gelato Italiano, a self-contained gelato kiosk which features a round, rotating gelato case and can be quickly set up in a shopping mall or
Several operators talked about the difficulties they had faced over the past few months thanks to the stagnant economy.
"We're having a good year, but it's been a tough year, said Richard Dunfield, president of the San Antonio, Texas-based Roto-Flex Oven Corp. "We will sell more ovens this year than we did last year, but last year I was order-taking. This year, I'm having to sell."
The U.S. Pizza Team trials were a highlight of the pizza portion of the show as well. John Howe from Pizza Hut won the Fastest Pizza Maker competition; Scott Childress from East Coast Pizza won the Largest Dough Stretch; and Ryan LaRose from Dali's Pizza won the Free Style Dough Tossing Competition.
Nino Coniglio from Il Brigante in New York City won the overall competition and was awarded a spot on the U.S. Pizza Team, which will represent the nation's pizza industry in international competitions in Europe.
Tech trends on display
The show offered a glimpse of the latest in industry trends as well as the tools available to help operators better control the basics of restaurant operations. One exhibitor, Mainstreet Menu Systems, displayed restaurant signage ranging from basic backlit signs to the latest in high-tech menu boards.
"The biggest thing that we have been offering as far as a recent product is the digital menu board," said Mike Harris, who was manning the Mainstreet Menu Systems booth at the show. "There is a lot of interest among people who want to be able to change their dayparts easily without having to do it manually."
And dozens of vendors displayed technology designed to help operators run their businesses via the Internet. Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based Pinnacle Hospitality Systems demonstrated digital surveillance systems that allow operators to check up on their stores remotely, while Longwood, Fla.-based Orderup.com demonstrated a system that allows operators to easily add online ordering.
"You can pretty much assume that technology drives the way we do business these days," said Thomas Lay, president of Orderup.com. "Many experts estimate that online ordering could be responsible for as many as 20 percent of delivery and takeout orders by 2012."
Despite the emphasis on technology at the show, some of the most interesting offerings were innovative ways to perform the most mundane of chores. The winner of the Best in Show in the Innovative New Product Gallery was The Glass Flipper, a device that allows restaurant operators to flip entire racks of clean drinking glasses at once so they can be filled with ice or beverages.
The device eliminates the necessity of having to flip each glass by hand after they've come out of the dishwasher.
"We launched The Glass Flipper on the first day of the show and could not be more thrilled that we were awarded the best product in the show," said Lee Greenburg, partner of the company. "We had a great show and met with many potential customers including ones from Universal, Disney and Doral, to name a few."
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Emperor's Brand Vodka Booth 358A Meet the "Emperor" and sample the smooth, clean and distinct taste, of vodka distilled six times from selected grain found north of France.
The first runner up in the Innovative New Product Gallery was Customer 2 You, for their Nowline software product, which allows operators to easily post their menus online. The second runner up was Joe Sixxpak for their bottle caddy.
Other events at the show included The Ultimate Barista Challenge USA, hosted by Whole Cup Coffee Consulting. Professional baristi faced challengers on the exhibition floor where they prepared their signature espresso beverages for a panel of judges.
Educational seminars at the show included "6 Reasons Why You Should Franchise Your Restaurant," presented by Tom Dufore, executive vice president of Francorp, "Energy Efficiency For The Hospitality Industry," presented by Marilyn Arnall of Florida Power & Light and "Sustainable Food," presented by Becky Malamut of the Green Restaurant Association.
At the close of the show, exhibitors donated 3,571 pounds of food to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida The donation is the equivalent of more the 4,460 meals that will be provided to those in need in Central Florida.
The 2009 Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show will be held Sept. 11-13, 2009, at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando.