NRA Trade Show Report: Better Tech, Happier Customers, Fatter Margins

Most years there is a dominant tech solution at the NRA Show. Not this year. This year we saw a range of technologies clustered around a common theme: guest experience.

Wait list management apps, tablets for table top ordering, customer guest loyalty solutions. New solutions for old problems — not just incrementally higher-tech versions of the same solutions. Rajat Suri from E La Carte, a tabletop ordering tablet company, said it best: The modern concept of the restaurants started in Roman times and has barely changed. But change is coming.

The new tech and what it does are fundamentally different from the last generation’s tools: less expensive, more functional and easier to use and maintain. This means for the first time restaurants are not swapping cost elements; they are replacing heavyweight legacy tools for margin-enhancing, operationally better solutions. I’ll repeat to make sure you didn’t miss it: margin-enhancing, operationally better solutions.

Technology and hospitality are no longer separate. Through deep integration, we’re seeing restaurants improve the guest experience in ways we never imagined before now. The restaurant you grew up in and trained in is not the restaurant you can run today, and is definitely not the restaurant you will run in a few years. And this is a good thing.


Before, During and After the National Restaurant Association Show. Six Tips to Make it Pay Off

The National Restaurant Association trade show is massive: 58,000 attendees, 1900 vendors, more than 135 educational seminars. And away from the convention center are hundreds of other events- receptions, parties, seminars…. Months of things to do crammed in to four days.

It is easy to get overwhelmed and waste time running around. To take full advantage you need a plan. I spent years as an exhibitor and now more as an attendee. Following six easy tips can make the difference between wasted time, money and energy and a business-defining event.


1. Have a Focus.  Well before the show figure out what is most important to you. Are you primarily there to meet new vendors? Learn about trends? Build a personal network? Use this focus to make schedule decisions before and during the show.

2. Make a Schedule. Make appointments with the people you most want to see; don’t assume you’ll find them on the convention floor. Know when the important seminars are. If you don’t, you will miss opportunities. 


3. Ask Questions. Collecting brochures from vendors is nice, but then you are only learning what they want to tell you. Ask questions while you them there, and you’ll learn what you want to know.

4. Write things down. Take a break every hour to write notes to yourself or your team. What did you learn, who did you meet? This is especially important for business cards: “wants info kit”; “like our logo”. Otherwise you’ll end up with a jumble of cards and no idea who wanted which information. 


5. Follow Up. I am amazed at how many people make connections at trade shows and then never follow up. Even if there is no specific next step, a simple “it was great to meet you and talk about XYZ” can create a powerful connection.

6. Share with your team. It will make everyone understand why they covered for you while you were out, make them smarter about their jobs, and organize the team to take advantage of new opportunities.

The NRA show is huge but these lessons apply to all trade shows. I hope everyone really enjoys the amazing coming together of the restaurant industry, takes advantage of the opportunity.

Bonus Tip: Wear comfortable shoes and drink plenty of water!