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Takeaways from National Restaurant Assn.

And what a SHOW it was!

Over 65,000 people, more than 2,500 amazing exhibits, demonstrations, pavilions, product showcases, AND delicious food tasting experiences.


Now, before you say to yourself, “sure, it’s the restaurant industry, that’s an easy category to create a fun, experiential, engaging trade show.”


Not so fast.


First, you’re only as good as your last event. And with the National Restaurant Association celebrating its Centennial next year, they know it’s about the future, not the past. That’s why they push the envelope. They know that the experience must improve every year.


And, you may also say, “My industry doesn’t have anywhere near that “wow” factor. We’re more serious, maybe scientific, maybe even considered a commodity.”


But I challenge you to ask yourself, “What can I learn from the restaurant industry?”


Plenty. Here are my top five take-aways for you:


1. A feast for the senses. People who are walking a trade show floor, eating, enjoying themselves, and stimulated by a vibrant environment are in a better mood, more willing to engage and sincerely enjoy interacting with exhibitors. You don’t have to be in the restaurant business to make this happen.


2. Everything, including the kitchen sink. The National Restaurant Association truly brings the entire ecosystem together. Every facet is represented: food, bar, beverage, equipment, technology, training, services, and every product under the sun. From chopstick manufacturers to Coca Cola to Amazon to Uber Eats to burger flipping robots to automated sushi makers to advice on how to make Yelp a major force in the marketing mix. Very few industry events are as all-encompassing as I experienced at the Restaurant Show.


3. Bigger can be better…as long as there’s navigation, intentional design, wayfinding, and an environment designed for the audience versus the exhibitors. Great expositions are like great shopping environments—anchor tenants, clusters of stores based on how consumers like to shop, convenient restrooms, hydration options, shopping bags, human beings for questions…you get it. After a short period of complete mind blowing, overwhelming, hyper stimulation, this 19th largest U.S. net square footage show starts to feel like a Disney experience. You just want to wander, explore and immerse yourself in this experiential wonderland.


4. Great speakers matter. You CAN fill a big room with a famous, highly respected, and not instantly obvious “relevant to my industry speaker.” Former Secretary of State, Dr. Condoleezza Rice is such a person. A brilliant, emotional, relevant, and highly personal speech, followed by a super engaging interview by National Restaurant Association President & CEO, Dawn Sweeney produced two standing O’s, and a super energized audience ready to get back to business with some new insights, and a big dose of inspiration. Great speakers still matter. My standard is goosebumps, laughter, and tears. I experienced all three.


5. Nurture your inner mixologist. Blending integrated learning, a start-up alley, an innovation hub, interactive awards, water-cooler talks, and an endless array of super engaging, entrepreneurial, experiential demonstrations, and hands-on, applied education is a formula that works.


The latest trend in trends


Well-known futurist, Daniel Burrus shared that there are two kinds of trends—hard and soft. A soft trend might change and must be monitored and acted upon with caution. A hard trend is based on fact, known information, and is going to happen.

A hard trend, from where I sit, is that live, experiential, inspirational, engaging, and integrated ecosystem events, conferences, trade shows, and annual meetings are alive and well.


The question for you…is my event trending in the right direction—not just for a new generation but are we staying fresh and becoming more indispensable to our current audience?


In the restaurant industry, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. Not many businesses are as fast-paced, competitive, and hungry for ideas to win and succeed. We can all learn something from this industry Show that must evolve as fast as the audience it seeks to attract.


Bon Appétit

Don Neal Headshot

A marketing thought leader, speaker, teacher, and advisor, Don Neal brings his Madison Avenue experience to help organizations see their opportunities in a new light. He is passionate about helping organizations accelerate the trajectory of their success.

Don Neal
Founder & CEO
360 Live Media

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