The National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show kicks off Saturday at Chicago's McCormick Place. The largest restaurant and hospitality industry trade show runs through Tuesday and has big expectations to fill after last year's 11 percent attendance boost.
The show floor will be filled with more than 1,800 companies and about 60,000 attendees.
This year's anticipated highlights include:
- The inaugural Food and Beverage Product Innovations award winners will be recognized for having made a significant impact on the industry. Recipients were selected by an independent panel of expert judges and fit into one of two categories: Healthier Products and Innovative & Impactful Products.
- The inaugural Restaurants Rock Industry Celebration hosted by celebrity Chef Tom Colicchio, Sunday at 9 p.m. at the LaSalle Power Company. Restaurants Rock features a live mixology contest, with proceeds going toward the NRA Educational Foundation's ProStart High School Program
- Keynote address by former Secretary of State General Colin Powell (Ret.) at 2 p.m. in McCormick Place's Vista Ballroom, S406, on May 22.
- The annual Wine, Spirits & Beer Event, May 22-23, will feature eventSocial, an online social media tool that allows participants to log onto social networks and email accounts, identify fellow registrants already in their networks, connect with them and post show-related updates to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
- The Food Truck Spot returns this year after making its debut at the show last year. Providing a nod to the food truck trend, this dedicated area on the show floor features equipment needed to launch, market or expand a mobile business.
- The Kitchen Innovations Pavilion showcases the most innovative and productive commercial kitchen equipment available today. This equipment is designed to lower energy costs, reduce footprint size, increase productivity for operations and be user-friendly for staff.
Heavy social media focus
Companies expected at this year's show include Facebook, Groupon, LivingSocial, Social Grub, TravelZoo, Yelp and more. Also, Google will be a keynote in the Technology Pavilion May 22 at noon.
"Social media savvy consumers dine out more often and show a higher level of engagement in the restaurant community than other consumers, so building a strong social media marketing strategy is a smart move for restaurateurs," said C.W. Craig Reed, convention chair for NRA Show 2011 and director of Food and Beverage, Broadmoor Hotel. "This year's NRA Show presents social media marketing leaders to help restaurant and hospitality operators navigate the world of online word-of-mouth marketing to reach and interact with more consumers."
Additionally, the NRA Show will host a series of social media-focused education sessions, including "Making Friends, Building Followers and Turning Fans Into Ambassadors Through Social Media;" "Using Social Media Technologies to Reward Brand Loyalty;" and "The Future of Social Media and Word of Mouth for the Restaurant Industry."
Other notable educational sessions to look for include:
- Menu Labeling: What it Means to You, Saturday, 10 a.m.
- Commodity Price War Plan: Experts Share Strategies on Fighting Back Against Increased Costs, Saturday, noon
- Menus 2011: Turning Trends into Money Makers, Sunday, 10 a.m.
- Fast Casual Success Stories – The Business Case for Fast Casual , Sunday, noon
- Gluten-Free & Allergen-Free: Nutritious Safe and Profitable , Sunday, 2 p.m.
- The American Craft Beer Revolution, Monday, 10 a.m.
- McCafé Digital Menu Boards: An Ideal Blend of Ingredients for Maximizing ROI , Monday, 10 a.m.
- So You Want to Own a Franchise: What To Know Before Signing on the Dotted Line, Monday, noon
- The U.S. Small Business Administration: Accessing Capital and Much More, Tuesday, 10 a.m.
For more information about this year's show, visit www.show.restaurant.org.
Alicia Kelso has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.