Sure Sign of Spring: NRA Show

Sure Sign of Spring: NRA Show

The U.S. economy may be tanking, but for four days at Chicago's McCormick Place this month, it will be hard to tell. That's when the 89th annual National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show sweeps into the Windy City. The show is expected to draw the usual 70,000-plus attendees from all 50 states and 115 countries and more than 2,000 exhibitors eager to show off nearly 900 categories of wares and services to foodservice professionals. The event kicks off on Saturday, May 17th.

The four days will be filled with networking opportunities, such as Saturday's NRA Educational Foundation Salute to Excellence events and Sunday's International Foodservice Manufacturers Association Silver Plate awards ceremony. The show also will serve up the usual slate of programming designed to bring participants up to speed on current trends in foodservice. Attendees can choose from more than 65 free sessions over the four days.

“Some of the hot-button industry issues right now are environmental issues, technology integration and how to boost profits in a challenging economic climate,” says William Anton, this year's convention chairman and chairman/founder of Anton Airfood. “NRA Show 2008 will guide restaurant operators toward proven solutions and best practices on these issues and many more. In addition, show attendees will get the scoop on the top consumer and culinary trends, like culinary uses and responsible serving of alcohol, nutrition and creative cuisine from our impressive lineup of education sessions.”

Highlights of the educational program include:

  • “5 Things Operators Must Know About Energy Efficiency,” in which experts will offer plain talk about ways to begin conserving energy.

  • “Marketing to Conserving Customers: A Guide to Operating Green with a Triple Bottom Line,” with advice on running a green operation profitably.

  • “Focus on the Future: Turning up the Heat on Your Menu,” a review of current and future food and flavor trends.

  • “Culinology at the Table: Mixology and Creative Beverage Product Development,” a panel of top mixologists and beverage developers address product development.

  • “The Dollars & Sense of Responsible Alcohol Service,” with operators sharing their experience and programs.

To make the sprawling show a bit easier to navigate, McCormick Place will be divided into the traditional specialty pavilions linking exhibitors with similar offerings. This year's designated areas include:

  • Kitchen Innovations Pavilion — demos of trend-setting kitchen equipment and 2008 Kitchen Innovations Award winners.

  • Organic & Natural Pavilion — certified organic food and beverages.

  • International Cuisine Pavilion — foreign and domestic exhibitors showcasing ethnic foods and beverages.

  • Technology Pavilion — cutting-edge offline and online technology solutions and educational sessions, and an Internet Café with e-mail stations.

  • Franchise Pavilion — restaurant chains and financial companies.

  • EDGE Pavilion — design and décor-related products and services.

  • Ask the Design Experts — free advice from designers and consultants on a first-come, first-served basis.

  • Minority Business Exchange Pavilion — A chance for minority suppliers and corporate buyers to form relationships.

  • American Food Fair — displays of U.S. regional specialty foods and innovative products.

  • Culinary Scene — interactive culinary demonstrations presented by industry trendsetters.

The biggest news at this year's convention is the addition of the new International Wine, Spirits & Beer Event (IWSB). The show is being billed as the hospitality industry's first forum to focus exclusively on restaurant and hospitality operator beverage alcohol-related needs. IWSB will have its own exhibitors, its own educational sessions and its own registration, separate from NRA Show. IWSB events will take place in a special pavilion. See the box on p. 63 for more.

411: NRA 2008

What: National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show

Where: McCormick Place, Chicago

When: Saturday, May 17-Tuesday, May 20 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Exhibit Hall Level 1 9:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Exhibit Hall Level 3 International Wine, Spirits & Beer Event (IWSB) May only 19-20, 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.

Who: 2,150+ exhibitors in some 900 product categories, 74,000 attendees

Cost: $70 to NRA Show, free for NRA members Separate registration ($125 for NRA members, $195 for nonmembers) for IWSB, which will get you into both.

Contact: [4]; 312-853-2525

A Little Star Power

Last year's debut of celebrity book signings and an official NRA show bookstore were such a hit that both will be back again. Some of the chefs will also be showing off their skills in the Culinary Scene area of the show.

Among the culinary heavyweights who will be ready, pens poised, this year:

Saturday: Mario Batali, Grady Spears, Art Smith, Craig Prieve

Sunday: Charlie Ayers, Sara Foster, Govind Armstrong, Robert St. John

Monday: Rick Bayless, Rick Tramonto, Tony and Cathy Mantuano, Pino Luongo and Mark Strausman

Tuesday: Gale Gand, Cheryl and Bill Jamison, Ellie Krieger, Chris Schlesinger and John “Doc” Willoughby

Wine, Spirits & Beer

The first International Wine, Spirits & Beer Event (IWSB) will happen at McCormick Place concurrently with the NRA Restaurant, Hotel/Motel Show. But it's a separate event, with its own registration (for $125-$195 a pop, depending on NRA membership status), a distinctive educational program and a different schedule (only Monday and Tuesday). Anyone attending will need to show a government-issued ID to be admitted. And, according to the show's website “You must be involved in the decision making process to purchase beverage alcohol in a foodservice operation.” Why a separate beverage show-within-a-show?

“Beverage alcohol represents a major profit center for many restaurant and hospitality operators,” says William Anton, convention chairman for the 2008 show and chairman of Anton Airfood. “Those operators asked the National Restaurant Association to create a controlled, professional, yet exciting forum where they could interact directly with beverage alcohol producers and importers.”

IWSB's educational sessions will address responsible alcohol service, distributor relationships, beverage promotions, food-beverage pairing, trends in beverage alcohol and customer loyalty programs.

A final note: Anyone who registers for IWSB will automatically be admitted to the NRA Show, but the reverse is not true.