The 95th annual National Restaurant Association (NRA) Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show and the 7th annual co-located International Wine, Spirits & Beer Event is in the history books, and the NRA staff is already hard at work preparing for the 2015 Show which will be held May 16-19.

The 2014 Show was another homerun for the NRA, with registered attendees up 2% to nearly 64,000 people from all 50 states and more than 100 countries. Exhibitor booth space grew by 5.7%, and nearly 2,200 exhibitors brought their goods and services to Chicago. The response was so overwhelming that the NRA has already announced plans to add yet another venue for next year, expanding into Lakeside Center in the East Building of McCormick Place.

There were several major themes and topics that were addressed through speakers and educational sessions, including customer and employee engagement, the expanding importance of technology in the industry, and the continuing importance of sustainability.

Earvin “Magic” Johnson delivered the keynote address, where he discussed the importance of being customer centric and understanding their needs. Several panel discussions addressed effective hiring and recruiting practices and the importance of proper training to ensure customer satisfaction and safety. The hot button issues of minimum wage increases and health care reform are especially affecting the foodservice industry, and there were several educational sessions focused on them.

New and enhanced technologies are continuing to alter the restaurant landscape in ways that couldn’t have been imagined a few decades ago. Tablets at the table allow customers to order, pay, play games, and register complaints and compliments in real time (see the most recent Technology Insight from Chain Store Guide). Mobile POS systems give managers the ability to continuously monitor FOH operations, optimizing customer experience, and reducing inefficiencies. Virtually all major restaurant chains have apps that allow consumers to find a location, view the menu, make reservations, place carryout or delivery orders, and more. Along with all the new ‘toys’ comes a certain level of responsibility to ensure consumer data will be kept secure, so there were educational sessions that addressed this very timely and critical topic.

Consumers are also all about the farm-to-table movement and want to minimize their exposure to potentially hazardous foods grown in foreign regions. Locally and sustainably produced foods appeal to these consumers and not only can lower operating costs but can also boost a restaurant’s image. Chefs on the panels discussed visiting local farmers’ markets, contacting local growers’ associations, and collaborating with local farmers to provide product to their restaurants. McCormick Place showcased a rooftop garden that is expected to produce 6,000 pounds of vegetables and herbs to the venue’s restaurants.

For at least the 20th consecutive year, Chain Store Guide was represented at the Show by Carmen Vasquez, the company’s Executive VP of Sales and Marketing. Following the show, Carmen commented, “After 20 years of attending this show, it’s still amazing to me the number of exhibitors and attendees it attracts. Its continued growth and ability to evolve certainly makes it the number one show in foodservice.”  Carmen noted how much this show has evolved over the years, showcasing “the latest and greatest innovations relevant to the times from technology to social media.”

Chain Store Guide’s newest sales associate Phil Patterson was a first-time attendee this year, and after hearing our stories about the necessity for comfortable shoes and a ready supply of antacids, he was a little apprehensive. Here’s his take on his experience: “With this being my first NRA show I was unsure what to expect going into it. However I was pleasantly surprised. Initially the sheer size and magnitude of the show was overwhelming. My anxiety turned to excitement because there were so many different vendors with so many different product offerings. My overall opinion is that the NRA Show is great opportunity to generate new business and rejuvenate old business face-to-face.” Carmen echoed Phil’s excitement: “It continues to be a  great venue to network, learn, taste, and connect.”

For more than 80 years, Chain Store Guide has been providing the best actionable data in the foodservice industry, and we look forward to continuing to do so for many decades to come. If you’d like to see our data in action, visit our website or call 800-778-9792.