11 Tips on How to Survive Your First NRA Show

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National Restaurant Association
National Restaurant Association Show
A Beginner's Guide to the NRA Show

Never been to foodservice’s premier annual event? No sweat. The team at FSR has you covered. Here are some tips to make the best of your inaugural trip to McCormick.

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National Restaurant Association
Booth at the National Restaurant Show
1. Make a personal itinerary ahead of time

Check out the full NRA Show schedule. Start with your top picks and then work your way down your own priority list. Overwhelmed by the girth of programming? Here are our top picks. 

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National Restaurant Association
Booth at the National Restaurant Show
2. Allow for spontaneity

While a detailed game plan is vital, so too is room for flexibility. One of the best parts of the show is alighting on something you didn’t expect to find, be it an exhibit, person, or presentation. Build in time to walk the show floor.

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National Restaurant Association
National Restaurant Association Show
3. Wear comfortable shoes

At 2.6 million square feet, McCormick Place is the nation’s largest convention center. Be fashion-forward, but not at the expense of your ability to get around. Band-aids aren’t a bad idea, too.

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National Restaurant Association
National Restaurant Association Show
4. Graze over eating craze

It shouldn’t come as a shock that a restaurant industry conference has no shortage of food. To that end, be sure to pace yourself lest you need to make a beeline for Pepto at the First Aid station (it happened to one of our staffers).

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5. Work now, BAR later

Just because you bought tickets to the BAR exhibit doesn’t mean you need to start your day with a Bloody Mary. Wait until you’ve checked off your more important engagements before imbibing.

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National Restaurant Association
6. Have a meeting location

WiFi and cellular service has increased significantly in recent years, but with more than 60,000 people vying for a connection, it can still be spotty. Have a meeting location set with colleagues ahead of time should the network fail you.

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7. Download the app

Even if the NRA Show’s proprietary app doesn’t house your itinerary, it can be handy for last-minute schedule changes and exhibit layout.

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National Restaurant Association
8. Err on the early side

McCormick is not to be underestimated in either its size or its ease of navigation. Exhibit numbers (located on the floor) can be easily missed, and special presentation areas seem to follow no rhyme or reason in their numbering. Allow yourself plenty of time to make your next engagement.

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9. When in doubt, ask the info people

They can be found in the hallway between the North and South Hall and are more than happy to help you get around.

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McCormick Place | Facebook
Exterior of McCormick Place
10. Walk a few blocks or hop on the L

Each day when the show lets out, traffic clogs in the immediate vicinity. If that taxi or bus queue looks especially daunting, walk a few blocks down to increase your chances of catching a Lyft. Or if you’re in need of some fresh air, walk a mile to the Cermak-McCormick Place stop on the L.

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National Restaurant Association
11. Get some sleep

For many, downtime is nonexistent at the NRA Show, making sleep all the more important. Don’t brag that you can run the floors by day and party at night, because that momentum flags after two days and you’ve got four total. Remember: It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

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