Juan Martinez reviews his favorite things about the 2012 NRA Show.
I guess that there is truth in the cliché "time flies when you're having fun." That was the case for me during the National Restaurant Association's annual tradeshow, which took place in Chicago May 5-8.
Fresh off a 30-year wedding anniversary trip I took with my wife, my NRA Show experience started early on Friday. Upon arriving in Chicago I had a presentation to make and then I took the test to become a professional member of FCSI. It has been decades since I last took an exam, making the latter part of Friday a bit of a stretch.
Each year I spend a few moments wondering if it is worth it for my consulting firm to have a booth promoting our foodservice-focused industrial engineering services. Yet every year we return to exhibit at the show, and we end up bringing an even larger contingent from our group. This year was no exception, as seven people from our company were in attendance at NRA. After doing the analysis, we come to a quick realization that the show offers a company like ours the unique opportunity to meet many industry leaders, suppliers and acquaintances under one roof over the course of four days. Participating in the show offers us the opportunity to research the latest and greatest equipment, technology and food items, which is very useful not only for our current projects but also for future endeavors.
While walking the show floor I found the level of energy and excitement to be contagious. Most everyone I spoke with is optimistic about how our industry is doing and how bright the future looks.
The show felt bigger than prior years, so I was not surprised when the announcement was made that the attendance was higher.
The Kitchen Innovations Pavilion featured very interesting developments in foodservice equipment. Some devices were simple, like Lang Manufacturing's On Demand Burners, which turn on the gas based on the weight of the pan placed on it. Others involved more complex technology, like Alto-Shaam's Combitherm Automatic Grease Collection System. I noticed that many of the items on display in the KI Pavilion had a clear theme of energy efficiency. Carlin Manufacturing showcased their take on food trucks, showing the KTB Blt On kitchen that could fit on the side of a building.
I also saw more diversity in the visitors. By our booth we met with individuals from many industries, including hotels, c-stores, groceries, restaurants, universities, hospitals and other commercial and non-commercial concepts.
FCSI's Ask the Design Experts was also better than ever and drew quite a bit of operator traffic. The location was in the center of one hall, which felt like being in the lobby of New York City's Grand Central Station. You just could not miss it.
Possibly the most important aspect of the NRA and one major driver for my personal attendance is that I was able to catch up with many industry friends and acquaintances, as well as broaden my network of contacts. Our industry is "for the people and by the people" (there goes my political side again), which makes networking critical. I believe that in the foodservice business, perhaps in others as well, people prefer to work with others they like and that this cannot be established effectively through a computer or a social network channel. Call me old fashioned, but I think a little face time among colleagues and customers is critical.
The fact that there were so many gatherings taking place during the NRA Show, socializing was pretty easy. I found myself trying to split time between events to be able to attend as many as possible. Additionally, I got to attend the Foodservice Equipment & Supplies' Dealer of the Year and Industry Awards Gala at the Ritz-Carlton. Each year the FE&S staff outdo themselves and this time was no exception. The room was packed and the energy was high. Definitely a very high-class gathering. I don't know how they are going to top it next year.
Time indeed flies by. But don't pout, because The NAFEM Show commences in February and then next May it will be time for NRA 2013. When you have as much fun working in foodservice as I do, the time will fly by with the blink of an eye, and we will all be together again under these industry big tops connecting with friends and making new ones. I love the social aspect of our industry affords. Don't you?