Reporter's Notebook
A Newbie's Take on the NRA Show

A Newbie's Take on the NRA Show


I have covered hospitality for quite some time, but never has the scale and scope of the restaurant industry been so apparent to me than at the 2013 National Restaurant Association Show.

This was my first year attending the show. And, wow, there were a ton of vendors and events. With entire booths dedicated to easy-to-stand-for-hours-in Dansko shoes or dishware or industrial-size mixers, the all-too-fun Wine, Spirits and Beer Event, and other booths dedicated entirely to hot dogs, yogurt, or soda fountains, it’s clear this industry is about a whole lot more than food.

The restaurant industry is more rich and complex than that. It satisfies the basic human need for food, while serving as an entertainment vehicle, too. It’s an industry that relies on constant innovation and tons of human capital.

As such, it’s exciting to see the restaurant so simply broken into its component parts at a show like the NRA’s.

As a newbie this year, here are my top four takeaways from the show:

Times are tough, but restaurateurs are tough, too.

For every session I attended about tackling the looming healthcare mandate, there was another about how to best franchise a business. Talking to folks around the show, there’s a sense of optimism among uncertainty.

Maybe it’s because the restaurant industry has never been all that easy to break into. Or maybe it’s just that the industry attracts people with moxie. But the people I’ve spoken with here seem pumped to try to expand their businesses and take on the next challenge.

Anthony Bourdain is The Man.

The NRA's Monday keynote speaker has a self-proclaimed weakness for KFC’s macaroni and cheese. Best. Food snob. Ever.

Details matter.

Whether trying to calculate how to best offer healthcare to employees, or trying to make the best cheeseburger possible, details matter. Hiring the right people, pairing the right beer with pizza, or using the best-possible ingredients all matter.

It’s how great brands are made. The magic is in the details.

It’s good to be a Midwesterner.

My coworkers can tell you that I was a little too excited about the Wisconsin Cheese and Vienna Beef booths, which were located very close to each other on the NRA show floor. Vienna Beef was serving their signature Chicago-style hot dogs and showcasing a chicken sausage named for the one-and-only Mike Ditka.

Also, as a native Illinoisan, I’m thrilled that @WisconsinCheese is now following me on Twitter. The love of fresh cheese curds runs deep.

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