The National Restaurant Association's annual Restaurant, Hotel-Motel show is the single most important event for the foodservice industry. Thousands of exhibitors and educators will show new products and techniques to help operators improve their operations and bottom lines. Here, the back-pocket cheat sheet to the most pertinent stops for the pizza industry executive.
1. Educational sessions that put C-level execs ahead
The NRA show has several tracks to organize its many educational sessions and culinary demonstrations. Pizza executives in today's fast economy will benefit from paying attention to the track focused on profitability and entrepreneurship, one of the NRA's industry imperatives for 2010.
The sessions target an array of businesses sizes, from 10 units to 1,000. A session advising executives how to "Stay Ahead of Restaurant Tax and Financial Issues" will be among the first on Saturday, followed by a session on overcoming pricing challenges by specialist Leslie Kerr, who works with top QSR brands.
"Expanding Your Brand into Non-Traditional Locations," presented by experts like Pizza Hut consultant Steven Brush, is also a timely topic. Finally, several sessions are slated on bringing restaurant owners up to speed on new healthcare laws. Visit the website to schedule your profitability track.
2. Kitchen innovations that help automate multiunit efficiency
There are currently 1,600 exhibitors signed up to display their products and services at this year's show. You can find the newest, most green or other specific categories of products by searching on the NRA show website's "products and promotions" tab.
Luckily, the Association has already done most of the work exalting the top products to see first. Their Kitchen Innovations award recipients can be found in their own pavilion at the show.
Two of the most promising award winners for the pizza operation include Manitowoc Foodservice's new eikon Accelerated Cooking Oven, a quick-cooking oven with a touch screen operation that also provides its own updates via Ethernet, as well as operator training and service maintenance instructions.
The Ecolab Scrub N Go simplifies multiunit cleanliness. The scrubber mops, vacuums and dries simultaneously, leaving floors safe, clean and dry, and cutting down on closing and opening time and money pits.
3. Sustainable resources that help restaurants get green
This year, the show's emphasis on green is stronger – and literally larger – than ever. Besides the Green Restaurant Association's 800 square-foot presence in the south hall, the National Restaurant Association will also have its own Conserve Solutions Center "sustainability related" products and services to meet operator demand for greener solutions. The presence coincides with the NRA's launch into recognizing green efforts of restaurants through its "Greener Restaurants" program launched in April. Both will resides in the Conserve Pavilion.
GRA founder and president Michael Oshman has said his non-profit, which is dedicated to certifying restaurants as "green," will have two important announcements at the show. One pertains to a new product launched with GRA standards that will help restaurateurs be more effective in their sustainability efforts, he said.. The other is a free resource restaurants will have that will change the game for how restaurants know "what's green and what's not."
The NRA's Conserve Solutions Center will showcase exhibits highlighting a range of products and services to help restaurant operators reduce energy and water use, decrease waste, find ideas for "green" remodeling and construction projects, and more. The pavilion will feature both full exhibit booths and a "kiosk garden" with compact exhibits and "satellites" to booths located elsewhere on the trade show floor.
It will also feature a series of sustainability-focused presentations and panel discussions that will explain how to put ideas into practice and how to select the best options for specific restaurant operations.
4. The one-stop shop for pizza truck outfitting
Giving a huge nod to the mobile food truck trend that has diners taking to the streets, the National Restaurant Association is debuting its Food Truck Spot at this year's show.
The Food Truck Spot is a dedicated area on the show floor where operators can research and shop for the equipment they need to launch, market or expand their food truck businesses. Exhibitors include companies such as LudoBites Food Truck by Mobi Munch, a mobile foodservice infrastructure company and online marketing channel that provides an integrated platform for launching a food truck business. Exhibitors also will include companies that manufacture and/or offer parts, service, accessories, financing, software and insurance for mobile food truck businesses.
Spotlighted pizza truck guru Scott Baitinger, co-founder of Milwaukee's expanding pizza truck, Streetza, will also be available at an area booth. "Mobile foodservice has gained attention in culinary and restaurant circles over the last couple of years, so we created this feature to allow NRA Show attendees opportunities to explore this phenomenon," said Annika Stensson, the NRA's director of media relations. "Food trucks are a great way for a restaurant to extend their reach and cater to new audiences, and consumers love them because they offer interesting dishes at affordable prices in convenient locations."
5. Wine, Spirits & Beer Event that will help operators shore up more beer, wine sales The National Restaurant Association's 2010 International Wine, Spirits & Beer Event, will also take place during the International Foodservice Marketplace main event, and will feature emerging wine, spirits and beer producers from around the world and exclusive food-alcohol pairing stations. IWSB attendees also will find expert-led, educational sessions that guide restaurateurs and bar managers to success from the producer to the restaurant guest.
One of these sessions will address the evolving American beer scene and how it will affect restaurant service, a trend evident by the growing profitability margins of the emerging pizza brewpub genre.
Brewers Association director Paul Gatza and Craft Beer Institute president Ray Daniels will show restaurateurs how to capitalize on the revitalized interest in local and craft beer in their presentation, "Upgrading the Quality of Your Beer Service." The segment will show operators how to build beer sales through more knowledgeable servers, higher quality draft standards and engaging presentations.
Each attendee, Gatza said, will receive a copy of the Draught Beer Quality Manual. The manual was developed between 2007 and 2009 by a working group of large (macro) brewers, foreign brewers and American craft brewers.
Bonus: Flash mob
NRA Show staff also is organizing the restaurant and hospitality industry's first-ever flash mob dance May 25, at 10:30 a.m. on the Grand Concourse at Chicago's McCormick Place.
The originally choreographed flash mob dance – set to Lady Gaga's "Just Dance" – was created by dancer Christina Chen of Cerqua Dance Theatre exclusively for the NRA Show. The easy-to-follow routine is available on YouTube for NRA Show 2010 attendees and exhibitors who wish to learn it to participate.
A special practice session will be available with the choreographer at the Show May 25 at 9:30 a.m. in room N427 at McCormick Place, Chicago. An NRA Show or International Wine, Spirits & Beer Event badge is required to access McCormick Place during the event.