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Event preview: The National Restaurant Association Show 2018

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More than 67,000 foodservice professionals are expected to attend the 2018 The National Restaurant Association's Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show on 19-22 May at McCormick Place in Chicago. Amelia Levin reports

This year’s National Restaurant Association Show looks set to have north of 67,000 foodservice executives in attendance.

Approximately 2,300 exhibitors will represent 900-plus product categories, while celebrity chefs like Rick Bayless, Chris Cosentino and Anne Burrell will demonstrate different dishes at the World Culinary Showcase (Lakeside Center, Booth #10357), running all four days.

Also back this year is BAR Beverage Alcohol for Restaurants, which runs from 20-21 May.

Pain points

NAFEM year or not, many consultants and manufacturers alike find huge value in attending the NRA Show.

“I love attending the show to see the Kitchen Innovation trends in equipment and to hear what session topics everyone is talking about,” says FCSI associate Tarah Schroeder, LEED AP, senior principal, Ricca Design Studios.

Shayne Varnum, LEED GA, director, consultant services at Hobart-Traulsen-Baxter, looks forward to the show each year. “It’s a great opportunity to educate yourself and to teach others about the latest trends within both the commercial and non-commercial sides of the business,” he says.

“The show provides a format to hear directly from end-users on their current pain points and needs of tomorrow. Another great aspect of the NRA show, of course, are the many industry associations hosting networking opportunities. These events allow us to connect with long-time industry friends as well as meet new ones.”

Allied FCSI member and corporate executive chef Ryan Norman, can be seen regularly on his feet working the show for Alto-Shaam. “The NRA Show is important for us, as it gives us a yearly opportunity to show the foodservice community what is new within our product line,” he says. “It also gives us the opportunity to connect with operators in an environment where we can have our equipment operational and really show off the capabilities. With the Internet becoming so prevalent in our lives, many people do their research online, but when cooking performance is involved, you really need to see it in person.”

Topical issues and global events

This year, the traditional keynote presentation, now called “Signature ’18” welcomes 66th Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice for a discussion with National Restaurant Association president and CEO Dawn Sweeney. The Signature ’18 conversation will touch on US foreign policy, international relations, and national security. Dr. Rice will share global insights into current issues and events during her address, followed by a question and answer session with Sweeney.

“We are honored to host Dr. Rice and look forward to a dynamic conversation with Dawn Sweeney on the Signature ’18 stage,” says Dickie Brennan (pictured), convention chair for the 2018 show and owner/managing partner of Dickie Brennan & Company, whose restaurant group includes Tableau, Palace Café, Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse, and Bourbon House. “Dr. Rice will undoubtedly impart invaluable insights into global events, and the impact those changes and issues have in the United States and abroad.”

Brennan, a protégé of the late chef Paul Prudhomme, who operates the legendary Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse, Bourbon House and Tableau in New Orleans, was selected as this year’s conference chair to advise the National Restaurant Association to ensure that the show epitomizes the current industry landscape in a valuable and meaningful way.

Passion and dynamism

“Dickie Brennan is a passionate and dynamic trailblazer in the restaurant industry, both locally and nationally,” says Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. “He has been a constant proponent of supporting local farmers and fisherman for years and will serve as an inspiration to our attendees.”

New this year at the show is the Restaurant Revenue Growth Conference, which will present a lineup of restaurant leaders offering their best practices and tips, tools and resources to deliver actionable strategies for exponential growth.

More than 50 on-floor education sessions—now capped at 30 minutes–this year will cover a wide variety of timely subjects from workforce development and business operations to food, nutrition and beverage/alcohol focused content.

This year’s highlights include sessions like Sourcing Sustainable Seafood is Easier Than You Think by chef Barton Seaver; Immigration Compliance Updates Under the Trump Administration, which will provide insights on the most common concerns with I-9 compliance and E-Verify mandates, as well as guidance on the Trump Administration’s recent changes to federal immigration law; Using Social Media and Data Technology to Teach, Track, and Prevent Foodborne Illness; Adopting Cocktail Trends in Small or Multi-Unit Operations, and Cannabis and the Foodservice Industry, which will explore the implications cannabis has for the foodservice industry as well as liability as well as what’s next for the cannabis industry in the U.S. and abroad.

Start it up

Back for its fourth year at the NRA Show, Startup Alley (North Hall, Booth 5675) is the destination for emerging, tech-savvy startups in the restaurant technology space. This year’s group of 14 applicants were hand-picked by a group of judges from a group of hundreds as the most likely to disrupt the foodservice industry—in a positive way—and as some of the best technologies available to help operations run smoother and more profitably.

Piggy-backing on the success of Startup Alley and new this year is SuperSession: The Future of Restaurants, a 75-minute conversation, held on Monday, May 21 at 11:00 a.m. in the Grand Ballroom (S100), which will feature renowned futurist Daniel Burrus leading a conversation about technologies set to disrupt the restaurant business as we know it. Burrus will be joined by John Miller, CEO of CaliBurger, which has successfully implemented facial recognition and robotic assistants in the kitchen and John Ha, CEO of Bear Robotics, creator of Penny, a robotic server.

Kitchen Innovation (KI) Awards

The 2018 KI Award recipients reflect the trends and topics most important to foodservice operators today. The 22 selected innovations address operator concerns from labor, energy and water efficiency to food safety, sanitation, cross-functionality and space-saving.

“The KI Award recipients are innovators in back-of-house operations and work tirelessly to improve the challenges faced by restaurant operators,” says Brennan. “For fourteen years, the industry has admired KI Award recipients and their contribution to making our foodservice industry even better.”

Some of this year’s award recipients include makers of a non-ozone producing ice sanitizing system; a multi-cook oven with multiple temperature-, fan- and time-controlled cooking chambers; an automatic fruit and vegetable peeler; a multi-zone plancha; an induction countertop line; a an adjustable well system for salad bars to make them appear fresh and topped off; an oven that uses radio frequency cooking to “learn” how to recognize food items, and much more. Check out the full list (https://show.restaurant.org/exhibitors/ki-awards#KI-recepients).

This year’s judges included Dan Bendall (principal, FoodStrategy, Inc.); David Chislett FCSI (executive principal, Ricca Design Studios); Jeff Cook (chief engineer, Restaurant Solutions Group, McDonald’s Corporation); Richard Eisenbarth FCSI (president/COO, Cini-Little International); Foster F. Frable, Jr. FCSI associate AIA (president, Clevenger Frable LaVallee); Randy Homer (program manager, Food & Beverage Operations Asset Management, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts); Jim Krueger, Jr., CMCE, NRAMF (chief, Air Force Food & Beverage Policy, Procedures, Business Development & Strategic Initiatives Air Force Services Activity (AFSVA) Food & Beverage Branch); Aaron Lamotte (senior director, Performance Interiors, Sodexo Performance Interiors), and Steve Otto (director, Capital Equipment Purchasing, Darden).

Food and Beverage (FABI) Awards

Recipients of the annual FABI awards are those food and beverage products that a panel of judges have decided stand out for taste, creativity and profit potential, and that will likely make a substantial impact on the restaurant industry.

This year’s 36 FABI Award recipients (https://show.restaurant.org/exhibitors/fabi-awards/fabi-award-recipients-2018) were selected by an independent panel of experts and represent a variety of both commercial and non-commercial industry segments.

“The FABI Awards showcase the visionary companies helping chefs and foodservice operators innovate and drive guest satisfaction,” says Brennan. “The FABI Award recipients provide opportunities for operators to meet consumer demand with cost-effective solutions. This list of award recipients serves as a guide of the must-see food and beverage exhibitors at NRA Show 2018.”

In addition to visiting FABI Award recipient booths, NRA Show attendees will be able to sample the products at FABI Awardee Tasting events held in Foodamental Studio on Monday, May 21. New this year, the tasting events will feature several companies at a time to give maximum exposure to each recipient and greater opportunities for attendees to taste the award-worthy products, which include a broth broth, shakshuka, elderflower and rose lemonade, meatless meats, artisan bread, Indian-spiced roasted garlic and more.

This year’s independent panel of judges included Timothy J. Dietzler, director of dining services, Villanova University; Lori Estrada, senior vice president of R&D, Wendy’s; Christopher Koetke, CEC, CCE, HAAC, vice president, category management, culinary art, The School of Culinary Arts, Kendall College; John Li, group vice president, Bloomin’ Brands; Robin Rosenberg, vice president, chef de cuisine, Levy Restaurants; Lee Ann Shaw, global procurement director, Hot Beverages and Snacks, Aramark, and Bret Thorn, senior food & beverage editor, Nation’s Restaurant News.

FCSI Networking Event

The Upper Midwest Chapter of FCSI TA invites all FCSI members and allied members to attend its annual networking reception during the NRA Show. Held Sunday, May 20, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Godfrey Hotel’s Urban Roofscape (127 W. Huron St., Chicago), this is a not-to-be-missed event. Register online: https://fcsi.site-ym.com/events/register.aspx?id=1072020&itemid=73c3ebd4-76e3-4da0-8b8d-3550f60bcaaa or email Peg Gaile, peg@s20consultants.net, for more information. Cost is $40 in advance, $45 at the door. There will be complimentary appetizers and a cash bar.