NRA to showcase top industry trends
Fast casual operators looking to expand their menu offerings, stay on top of current trends and learn more about the Fast Casual Phenomenon, should look no further than the the 2007 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show.
  
The 89th annual NRA Show, scheduled for May 17-20 at Chicago's McCormick Place, promises to highlight innovative products and offerings from more than 110 countries. Five hundred new companies and more than 2,100 exhibitor booths will reflect the hottest trends in the industry.
 
NRA Show feature exhibitors include Wild Veggie, a new all-vegetable product disctibuted by Graceland Fruit, which will be on display in booth No. 679 at the show. Customer2You Online Ordering will demonstrate their call center solution, digital signage and kiosks at booth No. 7495. And digital signage company Epicure Digital will show its Epicure Digital Menu System, a multimedia digital menu board system, at booth No. 1212.   
 
"We really approach the show to make sure operators are prepared for the next 12 months," said Mary Pat Heftman, NRA senior vice president of the convention. "We keep looking at that every year because it's going to be different."
 
Hot trends this year include bite-sized desserts, small plates/tapas and the fusion of Latin American and Asian ingredients. Additionally, green products and sustainability continue to be passionate industry topics, both for operators and consumers.
 
"This has always been an industry that cares about its communities," Heftman said. "The foodservice industry is totally committed to fulfilling the desires of the consumers, and you see it with how often menu items and food ingredients change."
 
New for 2008 is the NRA show's Hot New Products Guide. Special exhibitor "Hot New Products" booth signs will allow attendees to quickly and easily identify new products making their debut at the 2008 show.
 
This year's show will highlight a record-breaking 22 innovative products in the Kitchen Innovation Pavilion. Products on display include the EchoArch ventilation System from AVTEC, Unified Brands; an Apex TSC Dishmachine from Ecolab Inc.; Saf-T-Wash Food Sanitizer from San Jamar; and an Ice Manager Diverter Valve System from Follett Corporation.
 
"Folks have come to expect us to find what's new, what's different each year," Heftman said. "Companies do a great job of producing such a variety."
 
International Wine, Sprits & Beer Event
 
One huge new draw this year is the International Wine, Spirits & Beer
Event, held May 19-20 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in a dedicated area at McCormick Place. IWSB attendees will be registered automatically for the NRA Show; however, a separate registration, qualifications and badges are required for the event.
 
Heftman said the IWSB was conceived in response to requests to see more products and services related to bar programs.
 
"IWSB will be a highly qualified and controlled, business-to-business showcase for the products and information that operators need to maximize growth and profitability," said William C. Anton, foodservice management professional, convention chairman for the
2008 Show and chairman and founder of Anton Airfood Inc.
 
The two-day event is designed to provide a boutique and intimate setting where vendors and attendees can network. The event includes a higher registration fee than the traditional NRA Show, and is open only to beverage buyers and key beverage decision makers.
 
Educational sessions
 
Fast casual operators will have the opportunity to attend more than 65 educational sessions, which will cover topics such as food safety, cost control, recruitment, retention, marketing and technology. No pre-registration is required to attend the sessions, which with the exception of the technology sessions, will be held in McCormick Place's South Hall, fourth floor.
 
 
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Technology sessions will take place in the Technology Pavilion, located in the North Hall, Level 3.
Sessions include:
 
• 5 Things Operators Must Know About Energy Efficiency: noon-1:30 p.m. May 17
• Recruiting in a Multicultural Environment: 2 p.m.-3:30 p.m. May 17
• How to Lower Your Food Cost 5% in 30 Days: 10 a.m.-11:30 a.m. May 18
• Kitchens of the Future: Sunday, noon-1:30 p.m. May 18
• The Fast Casual Phenomenon: noon-1:30 p.m. May 18
• Impactful Local Store Marketing for Restaurants: 10 a.m.-11:30 a.m. May 19
• Get Noticed! PR and Marketing Techniques for a New World: 2 p.m.-3:30 p.m. May 19
 
Show highlights include:
 
Show attendees can learn to improve their operations' front- and back-of-house décor and functionality in the Ask the Design Experts area. In cooperation with Foodservice Consultants Society International, front- and back-of-house designers and consultants will be available to meet with operators to explore design plans. These 30-minute design consultations are free and on a first-come, first-served basis.
 
The Ice Carving Competition will be held each day of the show. Artists will compete head-to-head, saw-to-ice, for the $2,500 grand prize. Audience members will judge the frozen creations.
 
The Kitchen Innovations Pavilion showcases the most innovative commercial
kitchen equipment on the market as judged by an independent panel of experts. Attendees will see interactive presentations and hands-on demonstrations of cutting-edge kitchen products that can save time and money. "Dealer distributor only" hours are 9:30 a.m. to noon May 17. The pavilion is open to all attendees during all other show times.
 
The Technology Pavilion will host hands-on demonstrations, education sessions and exhibits focusing on communication, payroll and employee management, kiosk/fast-order systems, card processing, kitchen and inventory management, security, POS and other technology. The Cyber Café in this pavilion will offer free Internet access.
 
The Minority Business Exchange Pavilion will encourage the formation of diverse business relationships. Certified, minority-owned business entrepreneurs will bring new products, services and culinary ideas to market.
The Franchise Pavilion will feature new business opportunities provided by established chain restaurant franchisors. For those considering franchising or adding to their existing holdings, senior executives will be available to answer questions.
 
With customer demand increasing for new flavors and adventurous dining concepts, the International Cuisine Pavilion will showcase global ingredients and menu ideas.
 
The cream of America's crops will be featured in the American Food Fair, sponsored by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. Attendees can see a wide array of national and regional cuisines and specialty foods not available anywhere else.
 
The EDGE Design Pavilion will have design and décor solutions to improve functionality and customer satisfaction. The pavilion will feature the latest graphics, textiles, lighting, flooring, fixtures and furniture.
 
Attendees can learn to supplement existing menus or create new menu items with certified organic and natural products by visiting the Organic & Natural Pavilion. Industry suppliers will be on hand to explain more about this fast-growing industry movement.
 
The NRA Show Bookstore will be open with a wide range of titles for attendees to purchase. Celebrity book signings will foster interaction with top trendsetters for one-on-one tips and inspiration.
 
The International Back-of-the-House Restaurant Tour, open to international guests, is a half-day tour of Chicago's top dining establishments. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 19, participants will go into the kitchens to meet acclaimed chefs, general managers and other key personnel. For more information or to sign up, contact Customer Service at (312) 853-2525 or e-mail: nraregistration@dineout.org.
 
The 2008 Hot New Products Guide provides a roadmap of what's new on the show floor, including technology innovations, food and beverage trends and current fashions in attire and design. Booth signs will indicate which products are making their debut at the show.
 
The My NRA Show event search engine allows attendees to customize booth routes, contact lists and schedules. The tool works before, during and after the show.

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