Celebrating its centennial year, the National Restaurant Assn. held its 2019 Restaurant Hotel-Motel Show in Chicago in mid-May. The first show was in 1919, with 19 exhibitors and 350 people in attendance. Today, the show annually attracts more than 65,000 foodservice professionals from around the world, has 2,300 exhibitors and takes up more than 700,000 sq. ft. of floor space at McCormick Place.
"Bacon" up a storm
The Restaurant Hotel-Motel Show is where the restaurant industry comes to learn about new products, new technology, kitchen innovation and to talk about the issues. Among the topics being discussed are the home delivery trend, social media and sustainability from a product offering as well as overall business standpoint.
Restaurant industry quick facts
Restaurant industry's projected sales in 2018: $825 billion
Restaurant locations in the U.S.: 1 million-plus
Restaurant industry employees: 15.1 million
Restaurant workforce as part of overall U.S. workforce: 10%
Restaurant managers who started at entry level: 9 in 10
Truth in dining out
The recently released “Truth in Dining” study, conducted by Fourth, found that 56% of consumers dine out two to three times per week, another 10% eat out five to six times a week and 6% eat out every day. It also found that consumers go out to eat because of the experience more than the convenience.
Culture, experience bring customers back
The restaurant business remains highly competitive, so for owners, that means finding ways to not only attract customers in the first place but to keep them coming back. Quite often, that “experience” is tied to an establishment’s employees and if they are happy and engaged. Likewise, a happy and engaged team means less turnover for the restaurant owner. It was estimated that the cost of replacing an employee in a restaurant can be as high as $2,000. Turnover in the restaurant industry averages 30% plus.
There are initiatives underway within the restaurant industry to explore the use of robots to replace labor, not as a way of replacing employees but, rather, as a way to improve overall customer satisfactory by adding efficiencies in both the front and back of the house.
Plant-based meat alternatives 2.0
From an ingredient standpoint, many plant-based meat-type products were being showcased at this year’s show, including new and improved versions of some initial products to enter the market. The improvements now make the products more versatile and better tasting, according to the companies promoting them. There was also discussion about cannabis and CBD in food products.
Hand scanner adds to safety
One innovative new product, PathSpot, protects businesses and their customers from foodborne illness. The hand scanner detects contamination behind foodborne illness, including salmonella, Escherichia coli, norovirus, listeria and hepatitis A. Employees at foodservice operations wash, dry and then scan their hands to check for indicators of foodborne illness. The scan takes just two seconds. Biometric ID is used to track individuals, so stakeholders can see who's washing, when and how well on the data dashboard.
Sustainability is show focus
From a sustainability standpoint, a number of companies were showcasing a variety of products for replacing plastic. A company out of California, Hay! Straw, introduced the industry to a new straw made from wheat stem. Another company had an edible spoon that would last for 30 minutes in hot soup.
Social media influenced
On the social media side, there was an interesting discussion sponsored by Yelp that had representatives from three restaurants talking about how they use the reviews to get better. One chef explained that he used to get very upset and defensive with a bad review, but then he learned, with the help of Yelp, how to turn a negative into a positive. According to Yelp, research shows that if a situation can be handled within 24 hours, those making the negative rating will often go in and change the rating, sometimes by as many two to three stars. Yelp also has redefined itself to be more than a ratings service, instead becoming a mobile first company that is focused on data mining and predictive analysis and outreach. It wants to be more of a partner for restaurant owners.
Looking back and looking ahead
The National Restaurant Assn.'s 2019 Restaurant Hotel-Motel Show was a celebration of the past 100 years, but those in attendance were very much focused on finding products and generating new ideas for the next 100 years of dining and restaurant ownership.