For the next four days, the 90th annual National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show will fill Chicago’s Mc- Cormick Place with tens of thousands of attendees from every corner of foodservice and hospitality.
In addition to the massive show floor, which occupies both the North and South Halls’ third levels, the show offers more than 65 education sessions, all of them free to registered attendees. Each seminar or panel discussion fits into one of the following categories: food and healthy living, jobs and careers, profitability and entrepreneurship, sustainability and social responsibility, and technology. A sampling of what’s available:
• “Join the Green Restaurant Revolution,” in which Ted’s Montana Grill honchos Ted Turner and George McKerrow will have a candid discussion of their efforts to create a green, sustainable chain.
• “How to Recession-Proof Your Business”: Bryan Dodge, an expert in management and leadership in restaurant operations, will help you understand how passion, enthusiasm, positivity and focus all help you maintain a competitive edge and grow profits.
• “Sodium and the Healthy Plate” offers perspective on the challenges and opportunities related to the issue of sodium. Shelia Cohn Weiss, director of nutrition policy for NRA, moderates this expert panel.
If you’re looking for beverage insights, you might look into attending the second International Wine, Spirits & Beer Event (IWSB), which runs concurrently with the NRA Show on May 17-18. IWSB is the restaurant and hospitality industry’s only forum focused exclusively on operator beverage alcoholrelated needs. Registration for IWSB is separate from the NRA Show.
In addition to the exhibits and educational programs, the fourday schedule is packed with celebrations, ceremonies, networking events and more, including
today’s National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation Salute to Excellence and Monday’s International Foodservice Manufacturers Association Gold and Silver Plate Celebration. The schedule on page 3 has more details.
Many of the show events focus on food. Each day, for instance, a handful of renowned chefs and restaurateurs will be on hand to sign their latest books at the NRA Show Bookstore. The Culinary Scene area this year will focus on proteins as a critical success factor in foodservice. Butchers and chefs will showcase the use of new or lower-priced options and menu ideas for beef, pork and lamb. And the winner of the Association’s Hot Chef Challenge on YouTube will perform a cooking demonstration on Tuesday afternoon.
To help navigate the sprawling exhibit space, pavilions concentrating related products and services have been established. Those pavilions include:
• Kitchen Innovations Pavilion: highlights cutting-edge kitchen equipment and showcases the 2009 Kitchen Innovations Award recipients in live, hands-on demos.
• Organic & Natural Pavilion: features companies offering natural and certified organic food and beverage products.
• International Cuisine Pavilion: booths here showcase food and beverage products from around the world.
• Technology Pavilion: Here you’ll find an Internet café, along with the latest technology solutions, demonstrations, technology- focused education sessions and exhibitors focusing on wireless technology, inventory control, customer education sessions and more.
• Franchise Pavilion: Top chain restaurants and finance companies offer advice and opportunities.
• EDGE Pavilion: Design and décor-related products and services, including furniture, graphics, textiles, lighting, fixtures and flooring.
For the inside skinny on the show, we consulted David Gilbert, recently named the Association’s c.o.o. and executive director of National Restaurant Association Solutions—the organization’s products, services and convention group.
In this new position, Gilbert takes on an expanded leadership role within the Association, including oversight of membership, technology and the NRA Show. He also directs the activities of NRA Solutions, the Association’s wholly owned subsidiary.
Show Daily: Most of your career has been in operations with restaurant chains, including Wendy’s, Rio Bravo, Shoney’s, Captain D’s and Cracker Barrel. What were your impressions of the NRA Show during that time?
Gilbert: I’ve regularly attended the NRA Show for almost 30 years because the event has always provided me with a tremendous array of business solutions and ideas. Show features such as Kitchen Innovations and the International Cuisine Pavilion, combined with the huge number of exhibitors, always made the show the best place to find the latest food, beverages, equipment, services and the information I needed. On top of that, I found the show to be inspiring and a fun destination for a foodie like me.
SD: That professional-personal perspective is interesting. Can you provide any examples from this year’s show?
Gilbert: Just to give you a small sample, every registered attendee can see demonstrations by chef/restaurateurs including Rick Bayless, Marcus Samuelsson and Takashi Yagahashi in the Culinary Scene and meet Bravo’s Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard and chef/restaurateur Ming Tsai in the celebrity book signing area. Every attendee can also hear from Daniel Boulud, chef-owner of the Dinex Group; Sally Smith, president & CEO, Buffalo Wild Wings; Damian Mogavero, CEO and founder, Avero; Joseph Bastianich, partner, Pasta Resources; and Steve Ells, chairman & CEO, Chipotle Mexican Grill in the keynote panel discussion. Where else can you connect face-to-face with so many of the industry’s top leaders, decision makers, experts and trendsetters under one roof? Only at the NRA Show.
SD: So the show really has something for everybody?
Gilbert: I certainly believe so. All the show programs and features, including the recently added International Wine, Spirits & Beer Event, have something that will engage and help foodservice operators. And don’t forget that every attendee can also attend any of the 65 free education sessions. The list goes on and on and it’s all happening in Chicago, one of the world’s best restaurant cities.
SD: With all those exhibitors, programs and features, what’s the best way for an attendee to get the most out of the Show?
Gilbert: It’s really as easy as looking through the Exhibitor Guide & Program or our website— www.restaurant.org/show— to plan your show visit. I would also start your visit at the Association’s booth (6300). It’s a great place to learn more about us and our member benefits, advocacy and many products and services including ServSafe, ProStart and ManageFirst.
SD: Can you give a quick overview of ServSafe, ProStart and ManageFirst? Who should be interested and why?
Gilbert: What I think is so incredible about our programs is that they touch every part of the restaurant and foodservice industry career path. For someone just getting interested in the industry, ProStart is a fantastic place to start. It’s our two-year high school curriculum that provides nearly 80,000 students annually with a great foundation in the business—both in culinary and in management. For students studying culinary arts or hospitality management in college, we have ManageFirst. This program provides the essential managemen skills working professionals need to be successful. And then, ServSafe and ServSafe Alcohol deliver the industry’s most trusted training and certifications in food safety and responsible alcohol service, respectively. This is, of course, of huge importance to all members of the industry.