100 years of wow: National Restaurant Association Show 2019 brings the fun, breaks records

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For a fifth year in a row the show had record exhibitor space sales and welcomed 65,526 attendees

It may have carried a tagline of ‘100 years of wow’ and had the echoes of a illustrious history to live up to, but the centennial edition of the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show did not disappoint.

Held at McCormick Place in Chicago between 18-21 May, the show was a riot of color, fun and exuberance. It also did a good job of balancing a respectful nod to the show’s rich past with a keen focus on the future. Cutting-edge new products and entrepreneurship were on display at the Startup Alley, located in the show’s TECH Pavilion, where 14 start-ups showcased digital innovation new to the market. Perhaps one of the new products may even be potential winner in FCSI’s new Start Me Innovation Awards, which will culminate later this year.

Record-breaking numbers

For the fifth year running the show could boast record exhibitor space sales at 723,069 sq ft, while it welcomed 42,557 restaurant operators, retail foodservice professionals, equipment dealers, food distributors – a 3% rise compared to 2018. Not bad for a NAFEM year. Total registration, including exhibitors, also exceeded last year’s total at 65,526. Over 100 countries and all 50 states were represented while 92 of the country’s top 100 restaurant brands were also in attendance.

“The centennial Show was a success by every measure,” said Mary Pat Heftman, president, Restaurant Show Group at Winsight, which produces the show. “Besides the record exhibit sales and strong attendance growth, the energy on the show floor was palpable. Education sessions were standing room only, there were delicious new foods at every turn, and once again, ingenuity was on display everywhere you looked.”

A number of new initiatives for the show, from the Sysco Culinary Experience Center, to the Digital Media Slam, the new Women Leaders Panel led by the James Beard Foundation, the new Technomic ‘Ask the Experts’ sessions and a new butchery demonstration, gave the show a fresh and reinvigorated feel.

“This is an important show for the continued growth of our business,” said Scott Redler, Co-Founder and COO of Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers and co-chair of the 2019 Show. “Not only do we get the continuing educational opportunities and exposure to products and services to help us grow, it’s a time for our team to get away from the day-to-day and think about how to further our success. I was a co-chair because I believe in the value and power of this show.”

Signature session

A highlight of this year’s show, as it is every year, was the annual ‘Signature’ session, which featured senior leaders from various industry segments. Moderated by Dawn Sweeney, president & CEO of the National Restaurant Association, the panel focused on the future of dining and included Chris Gheysens, president & CEO, Wawa; Tim McEnery, founder & CEO, Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants; Randy Edeker, chairman, CEO & president, Hy-vee, and John Cywinski, president, Applebee’s Bar & Grill.

Elsewhere at the show, saw the 100th Anniversary Celebration and Star of the Bar Finals competition as well as the 2019 Star of the Bar finals event.

On the show’s first day, Heftman announced that the 2020 show will include a fourth exhibit hall. “The demand this year exceeded the available exhibit space. In order to accommodate the many exhibitors that want to join the show, and allow for booth expansion among current exhibitors, we simply need more space,” she said. “Adding more space and exhibitors also lets us bring to operators, more innovations and game-changing ideas than ever before.”

Elsewhere in Chicago

During the show, FCSI’s Upper Midwest chapter held its annual cocktail reception on Sunday 19 May at the IO Urban Roofscape Lounge at The Godfrey Hotel, Chicago, while the Foodservice Consultant team also recorded a number of podcast interviews with FCSI Professional members for its forthcoming ‘FCSI’s Dynamic Design’ series, to be hosted from June 2019 on the website. Stay tuned for more information on those.

Michael Jones