2008 NRA Show highlights industry concerns
More than 71,000 attendees converged on Chicago's McCormick Place last week for the National Restaurant Association's 89th annual Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show.
 
McDonald's chief executive officer Jim Skinner delivered the show's keynote address May 18.
 
Calling the confluence of problems now facing the restaurant industry "a perfect storm," Skinner said the key to weathering it is to work together.
 
"There is more that unites us than separates us," he said. "We all know the energy and poetry of a busy kitchen."
 
Among the onslaught of threats are rising commodities costs — an all too familiar issue facing pizzeria operators — an uncertain economy, food safety concerns, and more and differing mandates from states.
 
Another challenge is personnel.
 
"For too long, we paid lip-service to hiring, training and retaining, and accepted 100 percent turnover," Skinner said. Neglect of the workforce led to the coining of the term "McJob," which even gained entry to dictionaries to describe a low-skill, poorly paying position with little opportunity for advancement.
 
One of the more than 65 educational sessions held at the show covered the topic of hiring millennials — people born between about 1982 and 2002.
 
Todd Woodruff, corporate training director for Texas-based Main Event Entertainment, said the chain, which features bowling, laser tag and other activities, depends greatly on a workforce composed of the youngest generation. And to help bring in the best of them and keep turnover low, Woodruff undertook to understand their traits and what motivates them.
 
"Originally Millennials were thought of as Gen Y, which implied they were an extension of Gen X," the generation of children born between 1965 and 1980, Woodruff said. Closer examination, however, showed they are too different to be tacked onto their forebears.
 
Instead of Gen X's Seattle-tinged emotional morass of gloom and self-absorption, Millennials are, quite literally, putting on a happy face. Woodruff says one of their two most popular emoticons on MySpace is the smiley. (The other one shows optimism.) Teen violence is down 20 percent in the last 20 years, and their DUIs are down 14 percent. They also are socially conscious, pro-recycling and enjoy family time.
 
Live from Chicago
 
NetWorld Alliance Food Service Division editor, Valerie Killifer, and executive vice president, Paul Barron, conducted several video interviews from the NRA Show floor. Watch below for trends and products found at the Show's first International Wine, Spirits & Beer Event, held May 19-20.
 
 
 
Featured Exhibitors
 
The National Restaurant Association Hotel-Motel Show is one of the largest trade events in the world. Search NRA on PizzaMarketplace.com for more extensive coverage of the show and in the meantime enjoy this brief look at just a few of the exhibits. Click here to view a slidesow of the NRA Show featured exhibitors.
 
BUZZTIME. Any operator who has ever been to a Buffalo Wild Wings and watched customers get their trivia in between beers, is already familiar with Buzztime's nationwide interactive games. Now, for operators who want to take the application a step further, Buzztime is introducing a way for them to put their customized messages on the screen beside the games. A web-based interface allows deployers to log on, choose from various fonts and other tools, upload their own images, and have the resulting messages sent to their screens. Uses include making real-time specials to move certain items during slow periods or executing general promotional efforts. Space can be sold to third parties for additional revenue and content can be changed as often as the operator likes.
 
CUSTOMER2YOU. Fax machines have served an important role in the history of mankind. But so have 8-track tapes, dot-matrix printers and pet rocks. Online ordering can help do away with the busy signals and overlooked faxes so toxic to the customer experience, but until recently, the technology has been too cumbersome and expensive. Customer2You can work directly with POS providers to set up an online ordering application in no time flat, including complete menus, and have orders zoomed straight into the POS. Service is ongoing and seamless with the POS provider to give operators the proverbial one-throat-to-choke. Cost? Free to deployers because customers foot the 75 cent transaction fee.
 
EPICURE DIGITAL SYSTEMS, based in Beverly Hills, Calif., is a digital-signage solutions company integrating software technology with multimedia marketing to create products and services for the foodservice industry. Its core product, the Epicure Digital Menu System, replaces traditional menu boards and signage with a computerized LCD system with web-based controls. The System displays menus, video, animation, commercials, images and food photography. Each menu board can be programmed by day part and menu cycle. Menu items, descriptions and prices can be changed easily, quickly and online in one or more restaurants using Epicure Digital's LiveText technology. The company's creative team also can create compelling visual experiences that enhance the dining experience by creatively combining information, motion, imagery and food photography. Epicure Digital System calls this experience The Cure for the Menu Bored.
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H.C. BRILL continues to strengthen its foodservice presence by leveraging in-store bakery expertise and innovation. This year's exhibit featured a broad range of operator-friendly products including freezer-to-oven cinnamon rolls, focaccia dough, scoop-and-bake batters and thaw-and-sell cookies and muffins. "Our products are very versatile," said company president Troy Hendricks. "We used cobbler crusts for quiches, puff pastry for sweet-and-savory applications, and focaccia dough for breadsticks and pizzas." The exhibit also featured the Karp name, after H.C. Brill spent a few years integrating its best products. "Now, we offer a line that can accommodate operators without ovens as well as those with pastry chefs," Hendricks said.
 
TORANI, specializing in flavored iced teas, specialty coffees and lemonades, had two products make their NRA debut. One was a new drink with an especially fresh strawberry taste. The other was Torani Amer, a bitter orange liquor the company introduced shortly after the end of Prohibition. Torani, based in South San Francisco, does business in about 38 countries.
 
VULCAN HART RANGE had a new, composite metal cooking top that offers up to 40-percent energy efficiency. It's so efficient that the company is pursuing an Energy Star rating. The unique surface requires no seasoning and can be cleaned with water and a razor blade. Cook zones are precise and reliable, and the grill reheats so quickly from standby that more operators will feel comfortable shutting it down between busy times, thus saving them energy costs. While some grills can vary from 75 to 100 degrees from corner to center, the new Vulcan Hart range has a 12-degree idle average variance.
 
VGS won't be left behind in the move to green. At the NRA Show, the company showcased its new ecofriendly products. MgO board, for example, is made of magnesium oxide and other materials that require no energy for the manufacturing process. It cuts into shapes easily and is one of the most durable and flexible eco materials for today's signage and displays. Wood veneer panels are abrasion, scratch, stain and impact resistant. Plywood panels made from abundant, plantation-grown coconut palms can be used as stand-alones or integrated into most of VGS' proprietary signage and fixture systems. "When we think of our company as being very product focused, we were trying to showcase in our booth that visibility starts with design and builds from the ground up," said Patrick Benasillo, vice president. "We showed two different pathways, one more creative and vibrant, the other eco-friendly."
 
WILD VEGGIE made its debut at the show with four vegetable-based, frozen products that can be served hot or cold, as beverages or as parts of soup or other recipes. Currently, broccoli, cauliflower, edamame and red bell peppers are available. The process takes the whole vegetable, lightly cooks it and uses micro-cutting technology (as opposed to a puree process) to liquefy it. The advantage is that the product retains greater color and fresher taste. Wild Veggie traces all products from raw materials through the manufacturing processes and distribution channels to assure full accountability. In addition, Wild Veggie uses state of the art equipment for quality assurance, lot tracking and food safety analysis.
 
WINSTON INDUSTRIES, founded in 1969, a leading foodservice equipment manufacturer, designs, builds and markets state-of-the-art equipment for a wide variety of foodservice operations. Winston manufactures two product brands, Collectramatic and CVap. Collectramatic fryers use a gravity filtration system to remove loose breading from cooking oil, which extends shortening life, and lowers operating costs. CVap (controlled vapor) technology uses a patented dual heat system, composed of vapor heat and air heat. The system precisely controls food moisture and temperature, meaning food can be held for extended periods, without any loss of quality or temperature. Because CVap technology is available in a wide variety of product configurations, it offers operators the solution to a multitude of cooking and holding challenges.
 
 
 
* Additional reporting by Joseph Grove and Caroline Cooper.

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