National Restaurant Association Show 2018: review

The 2018 National Restaurant Association, Restaurant Hotel Motel Show in Chicago, US, on 19-22 May delivered good footfall, quality leads and some of the biggest names in the business, reports Michael Jones

Restaurants, said Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of National Restaurant Association are “the backbone of America”.  The industry employs 15 million people in the US, making it the country’s second largest employer.

And the National Restaurant Association, Restaurant Hotel Motel Show in Chicago, US, on 19-22 May certainly demonstrated the importance of communicating that this week as an impressive number of attendees and exhibitors at the show revealed a sector experiencing growth and opportunity, but also one that relies on its greatest advantage – the people who work in it. “Restaurants provide fundamental skills for careers and for life,” says Sweeney. People are our greatest asset.”

The show’s keynote speaker, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, reiterated the importance of educating and upskilling young people, and the role the restaurant industry can play in that regard. “America can’t have 18-year-olds who don’t have a skill. And I know your industry provides those skills,” she said.

Strong footfall

While official attendees from the show are still being calculated, an estimated 67,000 foodservice professionals are expected to have walked the halls at McCormick Place, with approximately 2,300 exhibitors representing 900-plus product categories.

Jay Stieber, chairman of the Association, opened the show’s ‘Signature ’18’ session and offered encouragement and issued challenges to industry leaders in attendance.

Stieber highlighted the foodservice industry’s positive impact on society, from the sponsorship of baseball Little League teams all the way up to aid being delivered by the industry for natural disater relief. “I encourage you to get out and tell our industry’s stories,” he said.

“Restaurants are part of the fabric of America. We are present in every single community. Our people – both employees and customers – are our priority.”

Bringing the fire

The hashtag #FiredUp was used throughout the show, indicating the passion people in this industry have for its future. It also represents the ideas and innovation that was abundant around the show, nowhere more evident than in its 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.

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 here:

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).

Meanwhile, recipients of the annual FABI awards were those food and beverage products that a panel of judges decided stood 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 ( were selected by an independent panel of experts and represent a variety of both commercial and non-commercial industry segments.


The essence of hospitality

Michael Mina, co-owner of Mina Group, which owns 30 reastaurants nationwide, was one of the star chefs cooking at the show’s World Culinary Showcase.

“Hospitality is where it all starts – making sure everything is focussed on the end guest experience. We take time and effort to understand that guest experience,” he said.

Evens such as the National Restaurant Association, Restaurant Hotel Motel Show are essential for reinforcing that message and showing how truly important “the backbone of America” really is. Next year will see the Association celebrating its 100th year, and never before has it felt so vital.

Michael Jones

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