The Great NAFEM Gathering

A lot has happened since the last NAFEM show and foodservice professionals appear ready to help operators drive customer satisfaction and higher profits as the business climate improves.

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It is difficult to believe that two years have already passed since the last NAFEM show and the 2011 exhibit is also done. Upon my arrival at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando I got the feeling that the2011 NAFEM show, which took place Feb. 10-12, was going to be different from previous iterations of this venerable foodservice equipment and supplies-oriented exhibition, especially the previous one.

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The day before The NAFEM Show opened, I had the pleasure of co-chairing a Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI) sponsored seminar. This educational event consisted of two professional panels: "LEED and Return on Investment," moderated by Dick Eisenbarth of Cini Little; and "Technology: Past, Present and Future," moderated by Joe Carbonara, editor in chief of Foodservice Equipment & Supplies.

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The seminars were presented to a standing room only crowd of foodservice consultants and foodservice equipment manufacturers, who spent the afternoon absorbing the panels' wisdom on these topics. The networking reception following the presentations was packed, as FCSI consultants and allied members hummed with anticipation about the show and excitement about the two panel presentations. Later that evening, I had the opportunity to attend NAFEM's Global Networking Event, which was also packed with foodservice professionals from all segments and buzzing with, all sorts of good vibrations, if I may steal a verse from the Beach Boys.

Walking the show floor the next two days, I noticed a significant shift from the mood that permeated the show a couple of years ago. Perhaps part of this feeling is due to my coming to Orlando with a "glass half full attitude." And, I am happy to report, that The NAFEM Show really rewarded my sense of optimism.

Just as like the jammed FCSI session that preceded it, The NAFEM Show aisles were full of individuals from all segments of the foodservice industry. Each time I wanted to speak to someone in a foodservice equipment manufacturer's booth it seemed as if I had to wait my turn. The mood was vibrant and there was a tremendous amount of energy in all the booths I visited. I had the opportunity to talk with many suppliers and colleagues and everyone seemed to be upbeat about the future. It seems as if everyone feels the previous challenging economic times are slowly fading to the background and are preparing for the advent of better times.

While everyone I spoke with was undeniably optimistic about the future, they also understood the foodservice industry will not return to business as usual, as it was several years ago. The paradigms that drive the business world have shifted considerably and that means foodservice professionals will have to approach the way they go to market in a different manner. The good news is that everyone was ready to move forward and embrace the new business reality in a very positive way, and anxious to tackle the new opportunities as they present themselves.

Clearly, The NAFEM Show and the FCSI event that preceded it represented three-plus days of learning and networking. If you did not attend The NAFEM Show, you missed quite a bit.

Kudos to NAFEM and the other industry associations that hosted events for making the entire experience so exciting and rewarding.

The challenges that multi-unit foodservice operators face are numerous and complex. But like many other foodservice professionals who flocked to Orlando earlier this month, I have returned home refreshed and ready to help operators drive sales, higher profit levels and customer hospitality. This is what we as an industry can do to help move the economy in a more positive direction.

Two years ago I got the sense that although the attendees at The NAFEM Show had a cautious optimism, but they were very worried about surviving and clearly re-trenching to make sure that they did. This time I sensed a different level of cautious optimism, one that reflected itself in the attendees' willingness to embrace new business paradigms, and instead of worrying about surviving they are looking forward to reaping the benefits and opportunities of the new economic climate. Let's make it happen!

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