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Lessons Learned from the 2014 National Restaurant Association Show

Jonathan and I recently attended the National Restaurant Association’s tradeshow in Chicago, IL to learn more about the foodservice and restaurant industry including the trends that are occurring, what’s new and innovative in the industry and any additional education we could learn on the industry. As a restaurant supply store in Toronto, we thought it best to see what the largest restaurant show had to offer our customers and potential prospects. We toured both the tradeshow floor to see exhibitors such as Steelite, Oneida, Dudson, Mitylite and Lenox as well as attended some sessions of interest. Here are some of the lessons learned from the show:

1. One of the most important marketing tools next to your menu is your website.

Ensuring you have fantastic pictures of your food on your page will help ensure you differentiate yourself from the multitudes of restaurants in your area. Showcasing beautiful photos of your food enhances the likelihood of a potential customer choosing your restaurant over another. We attended a session called “Food Selfie” that featured a food photographer on how to take the best pictures for your website. While I think that the session could have been done better to provide more value some of the greatest tips learned from this session include: the quality of light is the most important factor next to what camera you use to ensure a great photo – and the sun is the best quality of light. Make sure to pre-visualize your shot in your head and keep a portfolio of magazine / web images that appeal to you as a reference. And finally play around with the angle at which you shoot the photograph as well as the textures in the photograph to ensure the photo doesn’t become too one dimensional.

2. Online restaurant reviews are a hot topic in the industry.

What I heard continuously (and quite unfortunately) is with the apparent freedom of digital anonymity, often the review tends to go past the point of civility. While sitting in a fascinating “He Said/She Said Session” other restaurant operators both independent and large multinationals chimed in how they combat the negative reviews that might be received. One session attendee, an independent restaurant operator, has seen a lot of traffic (both web traffic and actual customers) from sites such as Yelp, Groupon, and OpenTable. A specific person has been allocated to monitor all the different sites that reviews can be written on. They then collate all reviews (both negative AND positive) and have incorporated the “hits and misses” into their weekly meetings with their entire front and back of house staff. This approach has not only given them the ability to actively respond to any negative reviews to thank them for their frankness but also allows them to look for trends. It can be hard to hear but if you keep getting a review saying your salmon is too dry – that is a great opportunity to take the review into consideration and better your restaurant. This operator showed how phenomenally they’ve addressed reviews to grow the restaurant and turn negatives into positives based on how the issues are dealt with. Another operator has helped train their staff to proactively identify issues so that an issue isn’t left to fester once a diner leaves the restaurant. The staff look for cues such as a meal not being finished, a takeout container not request or feedback that the meal was “just fine” and help to circumvent a potentially negative review. Regardless on how a restaurant is dealing with reviews the overall consensus was that if you aren’t responding to your restaurant reviews – you’re missing a HUGE opportunity to ensure your customers are heard and responded to.

3. Where are trends in the industry coming from?

It used to be that the trends that ultimately prevailed would start at either coast and work in. Nowadays with culinary education, the advent of the Food Network trends truly have started to pop up everywhere because of digital prevalence. While food trends can come from anywhere these days, it certainly can be from a large national chef or a small locally owned restaurant or even in supermarkets. Also, fine dining seems to not be driving the trends the way it used to and the majority of trends appear to be coming from either supermarkets or diets.

If you attended the show, what lessons did you learn? Tweet us @NatlEventSupply or Like Us and comment on our Facebook wall.