Untold stories from the NRA show

Zipping around the industry’s annual Woodstock, you may have missed a few developments that added color to this year’s gathering. While feeling is returning to your feet, here’s your chance to catch some of the unsung moments from the National Restaurant Association’s annual convention:

  • One of the shuttle buses that haul attendees to McCormick Place got lost en route, according to an eyewitness account from an impeccable source. The driver drove around and around until he found McCormick, then got lost again in the subterranean labyrinth where the buses unload, then hit the streets again. The passengers finally demanded that the driver let them out so they could walk the rest of the way.
  • This might’ve been the Year of the App—not because of what was hawked on the show floor, but as a result of the new technology attendees used to navigate Chicago and show-related parties. Show-goers (including this intrepid blogger) used the new Hailo Taxi app as an alternate way of snagging a cab.  Sadly, a shortage of cabs is a shortage of cabs, whether you’re whistling or punching a button on your smart phone. Attendees of Groupon’s party at The Aviary were encouraged to download a virtual-ticket app to get in, and attendees of Ecolab’s posh event were each provided with a smart-phone-like device to bid in a silent auction benefitting ProStart. Attendees keyed in an item’s number to learn the high bid at any point. They could enter a higher offer via the device, then learn if (or when) they were out-bid.
  • The Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers (CHART) is working with Technomic to benchmark industry training practices. National Restaurant Association officials say Technomic is also assisting that association in spotting new opportunities for “study groups,” the small gatherings of executives with similar business interests or responsibilities (i.e., the Marketing Executives Group, the Fast-Casual Council, the Pizzeria Industry Council, etc.) One possibility mentioned: A group for officials of Asian chains.
  • The show’s big draws, as reported to us: Any session on the new healthcare law; Howard Schultz’s keynote presentation; Anthony Bourdain; and, in a further continuation of a trend that has been building for years, the smaller booths that showcased American regional ingredients and organic choices.
  • Best quip heard at the show: The executive of a sandwich chain was asked how his concept’s signature product differed from the bargain-priced sandwich of the segment’s leader. There was a long pause. “Well,” he said, “we use meat.”


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