The National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show is a yearly event that has been preparing the restaurant industry for growth for nearly a century. Over 60,000 members of the restaurant industry attended last year to either exhibit their product or sample another. Hands being shaken, deals being made, delicious food at your fingertips, products being launched, and partnerships being formed; this is a networking event that the entire industry is at…but the question is: Will you be there?
I have worked in the restaurant industry for the past 15 years and last year was the first time that I attended the NRA Show. The first word that comes to my mind when I reflect on my experience at the show is: humble. It doesn’t matter how great your product is, or how much experience you have, the NRA Show brings about a different type of energy. Within my first few booth stops, I was approached by entrepreneur’s who had the passion of a day-1 salesman, working me over to pull out information that I wasn’t expecting to share. This wasn’t the typical “shopping experience” where you tell the salesperson “I’m just looking” as your excuse to get away from them. This was THE industry and I was surrounded by THE experts.
Below is what I learned at the NRA show that I am passing on to restaurant operators:
● Get personal with your customers. The booths were flooded with entrepreneur’s pitching different kinds of ideas, with one common theme: your customers are your friends. Texting services, nutrition info, instant feedback, e-mail marketing, social media, etc..; all of these services are designed to connect with your customers and reach them on a personal level to make them feel “comfortable” at your restaurant. The success tracking of each of these services proved their worth and was eye opening in proving that customers dine where they feel connected.
● Nothing draws a crowd, like a crowd. The marketing message of each exhibit was to bring customers in to your restaurant. However, the proof was in the exhibit itself. As the restaurant operators found interest in certain marketing, others started to come over and wait in line to see what all the noise was about. The longer the wait at certain booths, the longer restaurant operators were willing to wait. This reflected the same notion in a restaurant as customers will wait longer for reservations for a restaurant that is in demand. Create the demand.
● Networking is a necessary part of business. While it’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day operations, always leave time for yourself to network and build your organization’s pipeline. The old phrase of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” was never more prevalent than at the NRA Show. Businesses from across the country knew each other and were able to cross pollinate ideas and turn other businesses onto each other. These businesses don’t wait until they NEED something from each other to communicate; they stay in touch during the down times. So, when they do need something, it becomes more of a genuine favor than a burden.
Check out the NRA Show this year being held on May 17-20, 2014 at McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois.