Innovations and aspirations found at National Restaurant Show

nra show top
Each year in May, Chicago hosts the National Restaurant Association Show – it’s a gathering of 60,000 attendees and several thousand exhibitors and it’s tremendous!  I spent time at the show and can’t speak highly enough about it.  
First, there is an endless array of booths with every imaginable type of food product – and of course, almost every vendor is giving away samples.   I tasted a number of products and my favorites included gelato, lava cake, and cheesecake.   Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs had a huge booth and gave away hot dogs at lunch time – the line of people waiting for a hot dog wrapped around the booth and down the aisle! nra show2
There are also technology vendors for the restaurant/hospitality businesses – and that’s what I was there for.   Dozens of tech companies including; ASI (Restaurant Manager), Revel (launching their product that is a joint venture with Intuit’s Quickbooks), HarborTouch, FuturePOS, Breadcrumb, SilverwarePOS, Aeris, Lavu, Yelp, Shopkeep, RichRelevance, Square, Prolific, Givex, ZenReach, PixeSocial, GamechangerPOS, BrightSign and many more.    I met with executives from numerous companies.   While I focused primarily on technology, for obvious reasons, there were plenty of non-tech booths that were intriguing.  
Tim Henschel from NCR and Chester Ritchie from Worldpay brought me up to speed on the latest issues in payments and EMV.   A word of caution from Ritchie – while  EMV will make certain types of fraud difficult, we can expect criminal activity to increase in other areas, such as e-commerce.    Criminals, Ritchie said,  will migrate their nefarious activities towards easier targets.  So, the progress is good for retail, but we need to be on- guard for a new wave of digital assaults.
nra show3Chris Rall, Senior Director of POS Technologies at Heartland Hospitality Solutions filled me in on some of their latest news – including the acquisition of PC America and Dinerware, in the fourth quarter of last year.   He pointed out that EMV is not going to be the be-all and end-all of security improvements, but “that it was important to combine EMV with other technologies”, and added that Heartland has a “Breach Warranty” for its merchants.  
Essential to eclectic
In addition to food, software and hardware,  many vendors were demonstrating kitchen equipment, serving utensils and much more.   Two products that caught my attention – first, was showing off its new heated container for delivering foods like pizzas.      (insert picture) 
Partender ( showed me how their system could do a bar inventory in 15 minutes. had a social networking system that should be intriguing for any restaurant owner. 
Another product that stood out was Aardvark Straws (see top image), a company that specializes in paper straws!   Why paper?   Well, plastic straws are among the most common items found in the sand at the beach.   And our landfills are overloaded with plastic.   And there’s millions of acres of plastic floating around our oceans.  Get the point?  Who needs more plastic, especially for an item with a useful life of perhaps five minutes?   These straws are both perfectly functional and attractive enough to use at your next dinner party!   
NRA 2016?    Can’t wait!   I highly recommend the show for anyone and everyone in any aspect of the food and beverage business – it’s truly a learning experience.   
Learn more about the National Restaurant Association here.   (

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