A few observations following this year’s National Restaurant Association Show:
- Diversity moved front-and-center at the annual Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance Diversity Reception at the Mid-America Club. What was great to see, from my perspective, is that while there was a specific event recognizing achievements with inclusion over the past year, diversity and inclusion in the foodservice industry isn’t just a one-day event. These executives and the sponsoring companies, like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, U.S. Foodservice and Sysco, make inclusion a priority every day of the year. It’s not longer an afterthought, but a priority, moving into corporate executive suites and integrated with recruitment and business development strategies. Make no mistake, inclusion benefits everyone and it was great to recognize the pioneers within our industry, who fought to make this happen when it wasn’t the norm.
- After the Diversity reception, it was off to the Field Museum for dinner in the Great Hall to celebrate the Ivy Award winners from Restaurants & Institutions. Others have covered this event and the impeccable menu created by the Culinary Institute of America. But the real heart of this event came during dinner, when winners of the prestigious Ivy Award were seated at different tables, rather than together, so attendees coul enjoy meeting and conversing with them.
I had the honor of sitting with five people from the Virginia Tech foodservice team and it was one of the highlights of this show for me. If I ever find myself needing inspiration in the future, it’s going to be hard not to hop on a plane to Blacksburg, Virginia. After a year (or more) with the challenging economy, doing more with less, restructurings and uncertainty, I desperately needed to be at this table and hear the passion and commitment of the Virginia Tech team. The school sent 15 people to the awards ceremony because a) it’s just the way they do business and b) because it’s such a team effort for this university. We talked about why people in foodservice are so passionate about their jobs and what made theirs particularly special. It’s hard to explain, but they’ve â€˜got it,â€™ whatever â€˜itâ€™ is. Definitely spirit, teamwork, passion for the students and families they serve, and probably most important â€“ they can’t stop sharing about the accomplishments and support from others on the team. It wasn’t about any one person and they were acutely aware of the strengths each member brings to the table.
After attending NRA for several years, it’s easy for us â€˜regularsâ€™ to get jaded, especially about taking time to attend these after-hours awards events. â€˜I don’t have time,â€™ â€˜I’m tired,â€™ â€˜I’ve got stories to write,â€™ you get the picture. Valid points, but I’d forgotten what it’s like to attend this show and be inspired and motivated to be better at what I do. I really didn’t go to the Ivy’s expecting inspiration, but am I ever glad I attended and shared a table with Virginia Tech.
For more on the Ivy Awards dinner, see the Food Channel story, here.
- Next, it was the annual reception of the International Foodservice Editorial Council at restaurant Gage in Chicago’s loop. It’s no wonder this restaurant has such great buzz and the dining room was packed by 5:30 p.m. Downstairs was a sea of publication editors, marketing reps, manufacturers and industry associations sharing a common goal â€“ to improve and refine foodservice communications. It never ceases to amaze me that this group works so well. Competitive by nature, the member publications, marketing agencies, and fruit/vegetable marketing organizations work together and support one another. Make no mistake, we’re highly competitive in our daily business and we compete hard. But at day’s end, we also support each other, recognize the good work each is doing, and share genuine concern for individual and industry well-being. You can learn more about IFEC at www.ifeconline.com.
- Extra fun this year was attending my first tweetup or offline gathering of FOHBOH (front of house/back of house), the restaurant industry’s leading social vertical network. At the iconic Regal Beagle downtown, community members gathered to meet in person, which, as we know, cements the power of online communities.
By evening’s end, I realized my overarching theme for this year’s NRA, was connecting â€“ with DSRs, operators and manufacturers. No big surprise there. This is the National Restaurant Association Show after all. But this year was different. We weren’t there to play; we were there to survive. And to connect on a deeper level. It wasn’t superficial and, much to my surprise, was an extremely meaningful experience for me.
_This first person review submitted by John Scroggins