It’s a challenge to sum up an event so comprehensive and complex as the National Restaurant Association Show, but here are five lasting impressions from the show’s Centennial:
Success depends on agility and adaptability
That was the message from Sunday’s Signature session, which put a spotlight on the future of dining. National Restaurant Association President and CEO Dawn Sweeney moderated the panel discussion, which gathered leaders from the grocery, convenience store and restaurant worlds.
“We all compete here for share of stomach,” said John Cywinski, president of Applebee’s Grill & Bar, acknowledging supermarket Hy-Vee, c-store operator Wawa and Cooper’s Hawk, the other companies represented on the panel. “We don’t take that lightly,” he added. Cywinski also noted the growing need for restaurant operators to offer delivery service but added that the current economic model for delivery is unsustainable.
Sweeney also announced over the weekend that this will be her final Show as President and CEO; she’s retiring at the end of 2019 after 12 years in that role.
Besides the educational programming throughout the four days of the Show, attendees had ample opportunity to learn from some of the best in the business. Demos by prominent chefs at the World Culinary Showcase, a show mainstay, were joined by classes at the Bellavita Food & Wine Theatre, how-to demos and chats on the BAR Stage and even more classes and culinary demos at the new Culinary Experience Center.
The Kitchen Innovations Showroom provided more than just a showcase for cutting-edge equipment introductions. KI Fireside Chats on Sunday and Monday tapped segment experts in areas such as college foodservice, balancing convenience and design in foodservice and menu ideation. And ShowCentral, a new show feature, supplied live advice from Technomic subject matter experts and interactive displays sharing a wealth of knowledge and data.
Each day during the schedule, attendees marked the 100th anniversary of the Show with giant dessert. Eli’s Cheesecake and Sweet Street provided the goodies Saturday and Sunday. Between all that sugar and an oversized birthday cake that towered over the grand concourse, the milestone lent an especially celebratory air to the event this year.
Hot food and beverage trends
Specialty foods and beverages representing specific states and regions drew big crowds this year as attendees sought out authentic ingredients. The BAR Show drew the usual crowds of attendees eager to sample the latest wines, craft beers and spirits, but a joint booth sampling beverages from Vermont attracted especially keen interest.
Plant-based products are in growth mode
The Impossible Foods booth, for example, could not keep up with the demand for sliders, meatballs and other items made with its products, which are slowly making their way onto mainstream restaurant menus. Tofurky, known for its turkey-like vegan meats, is branching out with a chocolate cheesecake. Nut and oat milk, along with equipment designed to produce them, proliferated. And several FABI Award recipients, including a G.S. Gelato cold brew dessert, Fora’s vegan Faba Butter and Greek cheese pie from Rodoula all rely on plants.