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Hands-On Experiences


NRA Show 2016 debuts new and improved sessions with a focus on increasing audience participation in a variety of ways.

By Janice Hoppe

Interaction is the focus this year at the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Hotel-Motel Show with an educational lineup inspired by attendees and a more participatory keynote address. “We are finding more and more that interaction is becoming the name of the game when it comes to education,” Senior Director of Marketing, Communication and Programming for NRA Show Leana Salamah says. “Interaction might mean a more conversational approach to presentations or more hands-on experiential sessions.”

NRA Show is one of the largest annual gatherings of restaurant, foodservice and lodging professional, attracting more than 66,000 attendees and visitors from all 50 states and more than 100 countries. The show will be held May 21-24 at Chicago’s McCormick Place and showcase the latest products and services, share innovative ideas and up-to-the-minute information about trends and issues, and provide more growth opportunities than any other event. 

Last year’s show hit record exhibit space at more than 637,000 square feet, growing by more than eight percent and exceeding the previous NRA Show record of 629,878 set in 2000. The NRA Show 2015 was also the first year its exhibit space spanned across three buildings – McCormick Place’s North and South buildings and Lakeside Center. 

That space housed more than 2,000 exhibitors last year that were ready for face-to-face interaction, which helped them take home quality leads, increase brand awareness and make better connections. There was a three percent uptick in registration in the key buyer category of restaurant and foodservice operators. “Exhibitors get back to business with an average of $1.3 million in domestic sales and $1 million international sales as a result of exhibiting,” according to post-Show surveys.  

Interactive Platforms

NRA 2013 4The foodservice industry is constantly changing and the NRA Show is known for bringing together industry experts for informative panels. The association this year is hosting trend leaders who will share their insight on topics ranging from strategies for increasing operational efficiencies to implementing health-focused menus.

New educational topics include: new consumer and industry research from NRA, Mintel and Euromonitor International; clean menu development and logistics with Panera Bread’s team and new thinking around tipping versus service charges from Union Square Hospitality. Presentations will focus on workforce engagement and development from Taco Bell CEO and Yum! Brands Chair David Novak and a talk on the reality of prison meals with Laura Maurino, department of food administrator at California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. 

“I’m excited about this year’s educational lineup,” Salamah says. “We’ve always operated under the philosophy that education is peer driven and peer led. We’ve always encouraged our attendees to submit education session proposals; this year we took that a step further by crowdsourcing ideas for topics and speakers. We invited all our past and registered attendees because we want to hear what’s on their minds.”

Convention Chair for NRA Show 2016 and President and CEO of White Castle System Inc. Lisa Ingram says just about every major issue in foodservice and restaurant news is represented in this year’s educational lineup. “This is an opportunity for attendees to gain real-time thoughts directly from the trendsetters, newsmakers and overall world-class leaders who come to reveal their own personal experiences and professional opinions and entertain live Q&A on each subject,” she adds. 

Another twist to the NRA Show this year includes the keynote address. “We are not going to have a traditional keynote,” Salamah says. “We are creating what we are calling a Signature Session. It will be a panel of thought-leaders led by NRA President and CEO Dawn Sweeney discussing the impact of change, adapting to change and coming up with new ways to better serve customers.” 

The theme of 2016 Signature Session is “Turning the Tables.”  Panelists have not yet been announced, but Salamah says attendees can expect the session to be dynamic, interactive and exciting. “We want to create an audience-participatory environment where attendees are able to influence the direction of the discussion in real time,” she adds. “Before it was a one way presentation with some time at the end for questions. We are mixing that up.” 

Audience participation continues at the Foodamental Studio again this year as attendees participate in hands-on workshops on the show floor. Chefs and instructors host different sessions on how to perform various culinary techniques, including pickling, water infusion and butchery, to name a few. “There are 50 people sitting at tables and given the tools to do the class,” Salamah explains. “We have seen enormous response to that because instead of listening they are actively participating in the session. It’s incredibly rewarding to see a full session and no one on their phones. We’ve seen a lot of success with Foodamental Studio.”

New Treats

Bellavita – the largest artisan Italian food and wine expo – is coming to the NRA Show this year and bringing authentic Italian food, wine and chef demos. “We can never have too much food on the show floor,” Salamah says. “The other part of that is the NRA released a global trend survey and Italian remains one of the top-three consumer choices.” 

NRA Show Chef Jehangir MehtaThe World Culinary Showcase is hosting a panel and culinary demonstration on how America is a global melting pot for flavors and influences. Panelists include Chef Richard Sandoval, Restaurateur Rohini Dey, Chef Ming Tsai and Chef Jose Garces. “There used to be a time when you would go to an Italian, Indian or Latin American restaurant and they would have very pure, classical types of dishes,” Salamah explains. “Now more and more of those restaurants are allowing influences from other cuisines to work their way into the menu, creating exciting new takes on traditional concepts.

Registration is open for the NRA Show 2016 that will take place May 21-24. Click here to sign up.  

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