I just flew home from Chicago, and boy, are my arms tired (from all the handshaking and catalog-toting during three days at the 2008 National Restaurant Association show.) The Punk’s team arrived in the Windy City this past weekend and spent three days visiting some of the 2,200 exhibitors that peddle their wares and services at the show.
Attending a trade show with members of the foodservice industry from all over the world reminded me that restaurant problems are rarely unique. While the attendees and their establishments were quite diverse (I saw representatives from university dining halls, neighborhood pubs and race track snack bars) the “solutions” offered by many of the exhibitors touched on the same core issues that challenge all restaurants: product waste, labor efficiency, customer loyalty, and employee management. These “solutions” varied from award-winning kitchen equipment innovations, to eco-friendly packaging, to email-marketing services.
The Chicago Sun-Times followed celebrity chef Rick Bayless around the show as he combed the aisles looking for the latest products for his Chicago-based restaurants. While Bayless avoided the Costco-gone-wild food samples, we were more than happy to make a meal out of the Reubens, smoked gouda sausages, and mini-burgers at the sustainably-raised Niman Ranch booth. We ended the trip with a lunch meeting at Bayless’ Frontera Grill, which is committed to local and sustainable foods like the ones we ate at the Niman booth.