CHICAGO -- Foodservice operators have many reasons to attend this year’s National Restaurant Association Show, and not all are food-related. From May 18 to May 21, more than 2,300 exhibitors and about 65,000 foodservice professionals will descend on Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center for the trade show’s centennial.
Still not convinced? Here are more reasons that will have convenience-store retailers grabbing a pair of pants with a flexible waistband and heading to the Windy City ...
1. Learn from the very best
The show is a star-studded event. In recent years, the association has invited keynote speakers such as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Huffington Post Founder Arianna Huffington and former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. On the show floor, about a dozen celebrity chefs often host intimate cooking tutorials. Last year, Massimo Bottura, chef-owner of three-Michelin-star restaurant Osteria Francescana, led a demo in the Italian Bellavita Pavilion.
Retailers will also have the chance to learn cooking techniques alongside industry leaders at the Culinary Experience Center. With about 100 other educational events on issues such as food safety, labor and legislation, foodservice category managers will have plenty of notes to take home to their stores.
Besides the scheduled sessions, noteworthy attendees can also be spotted on the show floor. Competitive eater and Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Champion Joey Chestnut met with showgoers in 2017. Although he's not a foodservice operator, anyone who can scarf down 74 hot dogs in 10 minutes surely has some wisdom to share.
2. Eat till you drop
The eating is good at the National Restaurant Association Show. At the Global Food Expo, attendees can sample international flavor trends from more than 24 countries, including Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia. Operators hoping to cater more to health-conscious consumers can make connections with purveyors at the Organic & Natural Pavilion.
But foodservice operators don't have to sustain themselves with the nearly infinite bites on the show floor. In 2017, Bon Appetit named Chicago 2017 Restaurant City of the Year. The city has a lot more to offer than pizza, hot dogs and steaks. For instance, c-store concept Foxtrot Delivery Market and tech-enabled concept Wow Bao are certainly worth a field trip.
4. Throw one back
BAR at the Show is not just for mixologists. This part of the conference is a great way to cut loose after walking miles around the convention center; however, the exhibitors also distill the hottest beverage trends that retailers can infuse in their hot and cold dispensed offerings. Pro tip: There’s a lounge next to the BAR at the Show called the Chill Zone. Its proximity to alcohol and distance from the main show floor make a great spot for low-key business meetings.