How to budget your time at one of the biggest restaurant industry events

The 2014 National Restaurant Association Show is one of the biggest and best places to discover new ways to make your restaurant better.

But teasing that value out of 2,000+ exhibitors and 60,000+ attendees can be downright overwhelming. Here are 10 tips for doing it right:

1. On the Way There

You’re busy making sure your business runs smoothly while you’re away, so planning for the show may have to wait until you’re in transit. Cover the basics quickly:

  • Set Priorities: Keep your biggest business challenge top of mind throughout the show.

  • Schedule Ahead: Book a demo, schedule a meeting, or invite a key contact to grab a drink to ensure you get some time together. Follow them on Twitter or Facebook while you’re at it.

Pro Tip: Post in LinkedIn groups to find out who you can catch up with in Chicago. Try these:

2. Follow Trends Wisely

Trends are fleeting but some topics never go out of style. Focus on these:

  • Menu Planning: more guests are requesting gluten-free, low sodium, and allergen-free options, as well as healthier kids’ fare. Which of your dishes could you update to capitalize on these trends?

  • Staff Management: hiring, training, retention, regulatory issues, and staff management technology are all trending topics that directly impact your margins. Can you resolve a staffing challenge with technology?

  • Customer Loyalty/Marketing: learn how leading brands attract and keep customers. Talk with experts about using social media to engage more customers online.

3. “Speaking” of Experts…

Speakers and panels at the NRA Show offer a goldmine of focused information in a brief timeframe. Here are our “must-see” suggestions:

4. Be Social

Follow Key Players: Include exhibitors you’re interested in and brands you admire. Start here:

  • @NRAshow: The show’s official Twitter account is a must. Keep an eye on #NRAShow and #NRAshow2014, too.

  • @Rick_Bayless: Rick Bayless, renowned chef and expert on authentic Mexican cuisine

  • @FSRmag: Obviously! Get the latest on product launches, announcements, and other key news here.

Make More (Better) Connections: Tweet at your favorite exhibitors—it could earn you extra attention from booth staff or a connection with the home office.

5. Make a Pitch

Restaurant media are everywhere at the NRA Show. Capture some of that attention for your restaurant with a killer pitch:

  • Tell a story: Convey useful information as a story from your experience running a business. A person is easier to relate to than a list of numbers.

  • Make it fun: You want the writer to remember your story and share it with their readers.

  • Give actionable insights: Provide a clear suggestion that other restaurateurs could use today.

Pro Tip: Big Data is a Big Story. If you’re using data to run your business, publishers want to hear about it. Discuss how you’ve used data to save time or grow sales.

6. Evaluating Technology for Your Restaurant

If you’re not shopping for technology at the 2014 NRA Show, you’re missing a valuable chance to test-drive the tools and ask questions in person. Here are some tips for evaluating restaurant technology:

  • Form vs. Function: Sometimes the best option isn’t the sexiest. Focus on what the solution does to make sure you can actually use it.

  • No distractions: Look past trends and tie technology to a real-world need. If you can’t, keep moving.

  • Integration is key: The most important question to ask a technology vendor is, “How will this integrate with the systems I already have?” Technology that brings your systems together saves you time and headaches.

For more on this topic, including a handy Restaurant Technology Grader, visit

7. Beyond the Show Floor

  • Cocktails & Cashflow: Attend Swipely’s VIP Happy Hour to learn how Rosa Mexicano, Fig & Olive, Barbara Lynch Gruppo, and more than 1,000 other top restaurant brands use Swipely to understand customers, create better menus, and improve staff performance in less time.

8. Learn Something For Nothing
Find free consultations, access to industry experts, and interactive education sessions:

  • Ask the Design Experts: North Hall: Get answers to your restaurant marketing and design/decor questions from an FCSI expert.

  • NRA Booth: North Hall, Booth #6600: Find out how the industry is being represented on Capitol Hill.

  • Foodamental Studio: North Hall, Level 1: Master the “food selfie,” carbonation, ancient grains, chocolate sculpting, and more.

9. Good Eats On The Show Floor

When hunger strikes on the enormous show floor, the right snack will keep you going. Here’s a collection of exhibitors who have advertised their nibbles:

  • Chill out: Enjoy frozen yogurt from Sugar Creek Foods and Honey Hill Farms in Booth #1678.

  • Looking for lunch? Dietz & Watson will serve more than 20,000 franks, sausages, and sandwiches in Booth #2240 during the show.

  • When you need a quick energy boost: grab a sample from 5-Hour Energy in Booth #8030!

Like what you try? Most vendors are offering show specials—find details in the Interactive Floor Plan.

10. On the Trip Back

  • Plan your follow-up, but don’t send anything yet. “I always give people at least three days post-show before connecting. Their workload is going to be nuts. Give them a chance to breathe. But then get after it aggressively,” says Brandon Hull of

  • Implement something you learned. You can’t set up a new piece of technology from the plane, but you can sign a contract, schedule a call, or write a new process. The sooner you act on ideas, the more likely they are to stick.

The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.

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