It’s a behemoth, that’s for sure. For those of us who have made our way to McCormick Center in Chicago, we’ve found ourselves both enthralled and overwhelmed. When we talk to our friends in foodservice, we probably call it NRA, but for the laymen out there, we’ve learned to say “the restaurant show” or something of the sort to avoid being confused with another national organization, one that’s more highly divisive. It’s the National Restaurant Association, and I made my second annual trek this year.
I’ll admit– although I love the size and focus of the Catersource Tradeshow, the NRA show in contrast is a little bit bewildering for me. I’ve asked myself on the McCormick show floor many times, “Where am I and what am I looking for?” (To be fair, sometimes I ask myself these questions when I’m at the mall or even Googling things, so feeling a little lost in all the information is not uncommon for me.) The Catersource show is generally a lot easier to navigate, with every product focused specifically on catering and events.
But even so, I saw these new styles and innovations that caterers might find interesting.
1. Cheesecake has been popping up on more and more menus recently. I’ve seen the exciting things caterers are doing with cheesecake, so it’s no surprise that the foodservice industry are following suit. With flavors like Yuzu Lime Cheesecake and Blackberry Cabernet, cheesecake is getting its day as the high-end dessert of choice. (I won’t say it’s the new cupcake, though. That label is called way too frequently in trend reports, and cupcakes haven’t backed down from their dessert supremacy yet.)
2. Ice Cream Bars – Not the new cupcake, either, but I saw a few elaborately decorated ice cream bars and other kinfolk of popsicles on the NRA show floor. Have you seen an uptick in these this year? They’re fantastic for events — especially when they’re not too melty.
3. New vertical options for buffets. We’ve been seeing this for a while, but many buffetware purveyors are exploring the options when it comes to risers that can be incorporated increasingly vertical displays. These legs from Libbey and the ones from Tablecraft (at the top of the post) are really looking good!
4. Technologies for heating and lighting events are growing. From induction technology to new uses for LEDs, there are more ways to give a new glow to your event than ever before. Many companies are taking into account that not every venue permits open flames, and new products– like the Lumina FX2 from SternoCandleLamp — give events more flexibility and longer-lasting lights. Below, new uses of induction technology won Vollrath a Kitchen Innovations award.
6. Rustic look without the rustic sources. No need to call a carpenter or a basket-weaver! New products are reflecting the rustic trend with an event designer’s needs in mind. Easy-to-clean faux wood planks made from melamine (above) and creative, funky textured baskets like the ones below from American Metalcraft provide a pastoral look for any farm-to-table event.
7. Get comfy in QSR style. Last year facsimiles of food trucks from various brands dotted the NRA floor — this year vendors took to displaying their booths like quick service restaurants, complete with menu boards. One of my favorites was the coffee shop setup from Farmer Brothers that would have fit right in on an episode of Friends. A perfect idea for a coffee station, maybe?
8. Increased connection! Whenever we’re at a tradeshow, whether it’s the big Catersource show in the spring or another event, we love meeting new caterers and vendors. It’s great to get that up-close-and-personal look at our industry and hear what you have to say.
I’m glad that the NRA show is over– like I said, it’s quite overwhelming with information– but nothing excites like seeing new products and and excited industry leaders come together on the tradeshow floor.
Updates: This post was updated with better images on June 18.