A look at the restaurant industry’s biggest conference, coming May 16–19 to McCormick Place.

Step Up to the BAR
The BAR Show invites restaurateurs to taste and craft their ideal alcohol and beverage program.
The BAR (Beverage and Alcohol for Restaurants) Show, held in conjunction with the NRA Show, exhibits beverages and essential bar products. It includes food-pairing stations featuring Chicago restaurants, interactive demonstration lounges where experts share tips and skills, and mixology competitions. Guests can learn to apply the latest trends by surveying exhibitors and specialty pavilions, including an area focused on the boom in craft alcohol that highlights small-scale wineries, breweries, and distilleries. Formerly known as the International Wine, Spirits and Beer Event, BAR runs Sunday and Monday during the NRA Show, from noon to 6 p.m.

FSR spoke with officials at the National Restaurant Association about what to expect at the 2015 Restaurant Show.

How should first-time visitors experience the show?

As no two experiences are alike, we recommend first-time visitors check out our growing list of education sessions, map out which exhibitors are on their “must-see list,” and be sure to catch this year’s celebrity chefs throughout the weekend demonstrations and education sessions. The show is huge—have a rough plan, but also be ready to be surprised by the unexpected.

What is new at the show this year?

We have closed North Hall, Level One, in favor of opening the exhibit hall in Lakeside Center. We have relocated the World Culinary Showcase, which is the celebrity chef demo stage, to Lakeside Center and moved the incredibly popular Foodamental Studio, a workshop for hands-on food techniques, to South Hall.

Aside from the exhibits, what are other opportunities for attendees?

Our list of education sessions continues to grow, and it covers a wide range of topics, including technology, workforce engagement, food and nutrition, operations, sustainability, and more.

Additionally, Restaurants Rock is the official after-party of the NRA Show and BAR—and it can’t be missed. Taking place on Sunday, May 17, at 9 p.m., Restaurants Rock gathers hundreds of hospitality pros together under one roof for an epic night of drinks, dancing, live music, and the live Star of the Bar finals.

What are some industry trends that will be represented this year?

"Waste not, want not" is the mantra as environmental sustainability remains among the hottest menu trends, and there will be a focus on green products and materials as well as on organic and natural foods.

Our House: As the local sourcing trend continues, so does the hyper-local sub-trend. Beyond restaurant gardens, hyper-local is extending into house-made, farm-branded, and artisan items.

In a Pickle: Restaurants are exploring house-made pickles and specialty vinegars, small-batch producers with fewer traditional vegetable varieties, and fermented flavor profiles.

Going (More) Global: A trend that has been evolving for decades, ethnic cuisine continues its inroads into mainstream menus. Also, ethnic ingredients, including cheeses, flour, and condiments, are increasingly finding their way into non-ethnic dishes.

Mini Gourmet: Children’s menus are drawing more attention from chefs and restaurant operators. Growing in parallel are healthy versions of those gourmet kids’ items, featuring whole grains, vegetables, oven-baked items, and entrée salads.