ORLANDO, Fla. — The rule of thumb for finding the best restaurant is to look for the biggest lineup, and the same logic could apply to the NAFEM 2013 bi-annual tradeshow. The event, which was held at the Orange County Convention Center from Feb. 7 to 9, attracted more than 20,000 attendees to kick some metaphorical tires, test-drive equipment and sample goods from the army of chefs at the exhibitor booths.
According to Deirdre Flynn, EVP of NAFEM, this year’s event was a good kick-off for the year. “The industry is feeling it has gone through the roughest part of challenging times and is looking forward to what the future holds,” she said.
Although attendance was up slightly from the 2011 event, there were fewer vendors. Instead many exhibitors expanded into larger display areas, showcasing multiple brands — a telling testament to the merger and acquisition activity that has been taking place in recent months.
The key themes of the day were energy-efficiency, space-utilization, sustainability and multi-functionality. Speed-cooking, induction and the exploding frozen-beverage market spurred many conversations on the show floor, where demos turned into standing-room only events.
Front-and-centre technology elements included standardized touch-screen control panels to monitor temperatures and system performance across multiple appliances, USB connectivity for programming and management, Wi-Fi enabled signage, LED lighting, heat recovery and waste recycling innovations. Modularity was the name of the game for everything from display systems to prep areas and refrigeration.
A popular spot on the floor was the What’s Hot! What’s Cool! showcase, which featured audio and allowed visitors to browse the displays for appliances, tableware and accessories. Products were selected for the section based on labour savings, sustainability and aesthetic impact.
“In conversations we’ve had, it’s clear that manufacturers are looking to R&D to help speed of service and consistency,” Flynn reports. “Operators are challenged to meet more discerning customer demand with limited spend and looking for ways to generate repeat business while meeting the needs of their changing demographics. Dealers for their part are just trying to sell products that will address the needs of the market over the next two years.”
Meanwhile, off the showroom floor, keynote speaker Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group and bestselling author of Setting the Table, regaled the audience discussing what it takes to build a winning business culture. In his presentation, he explained the important distinction between service and hospitality and how to harness mistakes and turn them to your advantage.
Overall, the talk at the tables gave show organizers much food for thought for NAFEM 2015, which is returning to Anaheim, Calif., for the first time in 10 years. When it comes to predicting what’s in store, Flynn says, “Everybody is in on the discussion and looking at ways to introduce products that are unique.”
image courtesy of Denise Deveau