CHICAGO — The 91st annual National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show (NRA Show), which wrapped up yesterday at McCormick Place in Chicago, presented suppliers and foodservice operators with a more positive outlook than last year.
According to show officials, visitor registrations and floor traffic improved, as suppliers offered the latest technologies, products and programs to help operators increase efficiencies and satisfy more discriminating consumer palates.
“The American palate has become much more sophisticated,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice-president responsible for research and knowledge management at the NRA. He also pointed out that the proliferation of cooking shows and celebrity chefs “has pushed food and the restaurant business to the forefront of U.S. culture,” while consumer pressure has changed restaurant offerings at every level, from fine dining to quick service. “If you look at traditional quick-service offerings compared to 10 or 20 years ago, there’s greater variety,” said Riehle, noting the differences in portion size, beverage offerings and expanded menus that appeal to different demographic groups.
Commenting on a recent NRA survey of U.S. chefs, which put local sourcing of food high on the priority list, Riehle said: “There’s heightened interest now in knowing, not only the sourcing, but also the preparation, and a lot of this information is available on restaurant websites and communicated on menus. As consumer knowledge has been heightened, common sense is they’re also interested in knowing more.”
The show itself was a hotbed of activity with a Kitchen Innovations Pavilion showcasing winners of the most innovative global commercial equipment, a keynote address from television’s Charlie Rose and a flash mob of dancing foodies.