A preview of the National Restaurant Association Show, loaded with educational sessions, special events, and a dynamic BAR scene.

The largest foodservice trade show in the country returns to Chicago’s McCormick Place on May 21–24. Highlights to check out include educational sessions, special events, and a dynamic BAR scene.

“Just about every major issue highlighted in foodservice and restaurant news is represented in this year’s NRA Show educational lineup,” Lisa Ingram, the convention chair and president and CEO of White Castle System Inc., notes in a pre-conference announcement.

One of the year’s hottest topics was ignited when restaurateur Danny Meyer announced in October his intention to halt tipping at Union Square Hospitality Group’s 13 New York City restaurants. The controversy over tipping vs. service charges will be explored in a panel discussion. Jim Coyle, president, Coyle Hospitality Group; Lauren Hobbs, director of marketing, Union Square Hospitality Group; Joshua Levine, director of operations, STARR Restaurants; and Brett Traussi, chief operating officer, The Dinex Group, will discuss how new tipping models impact staff engagement, the guest experience, and the future of dining.

Food News Media, the publisher of FSR and QSR magazines, will host three sessions. FSR editor Connie Gentry will lead a panel discussion on Healthy Lifestyle Choices, slated for Saturday at 10 a.m. The panel will explore the daily stresses chefs and restaurant employees face, and take a look at how chefs and operators can effect positive change in their operations and beyond.

A session in the BAR venue, Signature Sips: The Business of Beverage Collaborations, will include beverage and industry leaders sharing their perspectives and experiences on partnering with breweries, wineries, and distilleries to create signature beer, wine, and spirits. Robert Jones, head bartender from Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis, and Gary Callicoat, president of Rusty Bucket Restaurants, will participate in the panel moderated by Gentry.

On Monday at 3 p.m., QSR editor Sam Oches will lead a discussion on Fast Casual 2.0: Lessons from the Next Great Limited-Service Wave. Fast-casual restaurants are dominating the foodservice conversation, and the panel will highlight entrepreneurs who are rolling out chef-driven limited-service concepts that are pushing the standards for high-quality products, ingredients, and service.

Viva Sapore!

Headed to the U.S. for the first time: A traveling exhibition made up of authentic Italian food and beverage producers will command 20,000 square feet in McCormick’s Lakeside Center, adjacent to the NRA Show booth space and the World Culinary Showcase event area. Titled the Bellavita Expo, this inaugural event will feature Italian food and beverage producers, wine-focused educational sessions, and demonstrations from Michelin-starred chefs.

Also debuting at NRA is Sapore, an annual publication from Food News Media that highlights why Italian influences matter in virtually every restaurant setting, not just in the traditional Italian concepts. Sapore will feature content about Italian ingredients, flavor profiles, and techniques that best lend themselves to other cuisines, and it will profile how restaurateurs have successfully incorporated Italian influences into the menu and what that means for the bottom line.

Step Up to the BAR

Taking place from noon to 6 p.m. on May 22 and 23, this year’s BAR 16 Show—formerly known as the International Wine, Spirits, and Beer Event—will feature interactive demonstrations such as Menu Pairing, Craftique, and Bar Necessities Pavilions. Education sessions will help operators discover new and essential bar products. Executive producer and host of Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue,” Jon Taffer, is joining the event. In a competition that pits master mixologists from regional competitions against one another, The Star of the Bar will also be crowned.

Bar Management, Beverage, Chef Profiles, Feature