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National Restaurant Association Show Coverage

Italian foodservice equipment company Lainox shows off the capabilities of its latest Naboo combination oven.

Restaurants are dealing with more competitors than ever, and what people eat and how they want to eat is changing. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel, particularly for independent restaurants, said NRA Speaker Rhonda Abrams, which can capitalize on a growing consumer base that prefers all things local.

“There is a strong and growing shop local, dine local, shop small, dine small movement,” said Abrams, president of small business content creation company PlanningShop and a USA Today columnist, during the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago in May. Referencing the 2017 American Express Restaurant Trade Survey, Abrams noted 40 percent of millennials prefer shopping and dining local—even if the cost is higher—and more than one-third distrust big business.

“If you’re using local ingredients, make sure you’re letting your customers know. Put it on your menu, put it on your wall,” she said of leveraging that appeal. “Dining small, dining local has got to be a message you put out in your neighborhood all the time,” and owners should look for ways to reinforce to customers that they’re making a positive choice to support their community.

Her other advice: Don’t try to be all things to all people. Instead, determine what makes your restaurant distinct and then “be very clear about what and who you are.” Find ways as an owner to in turn support local initiatives and other independent businesses, Abrams added.


Truth about millennials 

Generational researcher Jason Dorsey says while millennials take longer to establish brand loyalty, once they do they’re the “No. 1 generation to refer people to a restaurant.”

If you think you know everything about millennials, Jason Dorsey wants to debunk your myths. Speaking May 21 during the NRA Show’s Signature ‘17 keynote, Dorsey, co-founder of millennial and Gen Z research firm The Center for Generational Kinetics, detailed some purchasing behavior myths that have caused those charged with marketing restaurants to millennials to misjudge their audience.

 “The No. 1 myth that everyone thinks about millennials is that they are broke, but we are the No. 1 generation in the U.S. workforce,” Dorsey said. “There are more of us working today than any other generation, and our generation will outspend any other in restaurants today.” 

The problem for the restaurant industry, Dorsey continued, is it relies heavily on data that tracks behavior that’s already happened— the types of purchases, when they were made, for how much—but very little on why that behavior occurs.

The restaurant industry, said Dorsey, “suffers from a tremendous lack of data” on why millennials make decisions.” His research challenges several industry assumptions, one being that millennials are tech savvy.

“What we discovered is we are tech dependent … my generation does not know how technology actually works,” said Dorsey. “We just know we cannot live without it. It’s all about how simple can you make it so it just works.”

Dorsey also emphasized that loyalty from millennials must be earned. “The No. 1 thing that irks me is when people say millennials aren’t loyal. Here’s the truth: Millennials are the most loyal generation of customers—once we establish our loyalty,” he said. Expectations are high, and millennials establish their loyalty later in life and are going to sample brands longer before committing.

But, “once we establish our loyalty, we are the No. 1 generation to refer people to a restaurant,” he said.


Betting on beverages  

Carleton Johnson (right), founder of Minneapolis-based Joia Soda, pours samples from his line of all natural sodas.

While the technology pavilion, culinary demonstrations and the organic and natural area again proved popular each day at the show, a noticeable uptick in specialty and craft beverage companies served to further amplify that all things drinkable are trending upward.  

At the Rishi Tea booth, the Milwaukee-based company passed out samples of kegged craft-brewed tea made with organic tea leaves and botanicals but without sugar, artificial colors or preservatives. SmartFruit, meanwhile, puts superfoods in its juices, along with ingredients such as oat fiber and ashwagandha extract (for its rejuvenating properties).

Not to be left out, larger companies including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo showcased their new takes on drinks. Barrilitos aquas frescas is Coca-Cola’s line of flavor-enhanced water—using real fruit juices instead of artificial flavors—and with only 50-60 calories. PepsiCo went the craft soda route with its Stubborn Soda line, featuring flavors such as Lemon Berry Acai and Orange Hibiscus, using cane sugar and stevia as sweeteners.

On the cocktail side, Beyond Zero debuted its frozen liquor ice system at the show, essentially an ice maker capable of freezing liquor into cubes, with a specialized storage freezer to hold liquor ice. A company rep said the ice maker is capable of automatically freezing pure liquor, wine, or mixed cocktails into ice in a matter of just minutes, “putting the liquor ‘in the rocks’ rather than ‘on the rocks.’”


Less is more

TurboChef’s Double Batch ventless impingement oven.

The top equipment trend at this year’s show was reduction—as in equipment that reduces labor, water usage, space and energy. 

Trimming the time employees spend on mundane tasks can make a big difference in overall operations, said Markus Bishop, president of QuiQsilver, as he introduced the Roll-O-Matic silverware rolling machine. It wraps forks, knives and spoons in napkins at a rate of 500 sets an hour, and its built-in ultraviolet light sanitizes each set as it rolls. The machine also rolls and bands chopsticks.

In the dishwasher segment, Hobart introduced its CLeN Conveyor Warewasher, which with its drain-water energy recovery feature transfers heat from waste water to pre-heat the incoming water. And by reducing the temperature of drain water, the washer cuts down on energy used and saves on water consumption. 

At only 27-inches wide, TurboChef’s Double Batch ventless impingement oven takes up less kitchen real estate and uses less energy. The two high-speed cooking cavities are independently controlled by a Wi-Fi connected touchscreen. 

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