John’s Interesting Catering Finds at the National Restaurant Show

The National Restaurant Show is always a great excuse for restaurants and caterers of all sizes to visit the windy city of Chicago, IL. This year was certainly no exception.

The show has everything you can imagine (and more!) for our industry. Food, equipment, technology, demos, celebrities, education, parties, and did I mention food?!

From my two and a half days on the show floor, I compiled a list of cool things that I thought really stood out from the crowd. With thousands of exhibitors, this is a pretty tall task to uniquely define your product.

This list is compiled in no particular order of favoritism – but rather the random order that my pile of paperwork, cards, gifts, etc. were crammed into my bag.

  • Tech Slinger. Holsters for wearing our mobile tablets as accessories. OK, maybe it’s more function for wait staff than fashion, but a big statement as to where we are as a technology society. What a great way to always have your Total Party Planner catering software within reach too.productsthesideorder
  • My ‘Vendor Congeniality’ award goes to Prop & Peller Pretzels. They had to be one of the most happy, friendly, energetic staff we encountered the entire show. We met them at the very end of a long day when most vendors seem to mentally check out. Not this team- you would have thought the show just opened. Oh, and their pretzels were fantastic too!
  • With the growing demand for higher quality, healthier restaurant meals, HealthyDiningFinder.com is helping consumers eat better. A quick search by zip code will bring back a list of local restaurants and their healthy dining options detailed in full nutrition.
  • Legal moonshine? Yep. Ole Smokey Tennessee Moonshine comes from Tennessee’s first legal moonshine distillery. Just to believe it, I had to try it. My full body shutter from gulping half an ounce was proof enough for me that this was the real deal. I love their slogan: Shine Responsibly. You even have to be 21 to enter their website! Moooshine_blackberry
  • Broaster Company pressure fryers are fantastic. My brother and I called them the grease-less fried chicken makers. Because it’s pressure fried, genuine Broaster Chicken is more tender and juicy. I must admit we visited this booth on a number of occasions. I think we might have been considered addicted.
  • I’m guessing that everybody has had an experience with putting sugar packs under a wobbly table – even though ultimately it never stabilizes the table – right? So Flat Tech Technology developed a product that stabilizes any wobbly table. If I didn’t see it in person I wouldn’t believe it – but it really worked great! They have different products for various sized tables.
  • A really neat ‘novelty item’ was the custom wine shade by di Potter. These cute pieces of paper turn any wine glass into a lamp shade look-a-like. You can print a theme, accent an  event color, advertise specials, or simply use your logo. I also thought it was a great way to just show that a table was reserved. ws_tucketred_r
  • My ‘Mega-Food Booth’ award goes to Dietz & Watson. It was amazing how much food variety they were serving! Great presentations, recipes, portions, and most importantly taste. Family owned and operated they are focusing more on the healthy deli options that are “good and good for you”.
  • We noted last year that the vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free diets are not just a fleeting trend. The increased number of vendors this year offering these products continues to solidify this statement. But my ‘Great Tasting Vegan’ award goes to Vegetarian Plus. The vegan Kung Pao chicken and sparerib cutlets may have fooled even the most discriminating carnivore!
  • Taking off on the craft beer craze, Begley and Bills , a sub-company of Seelect, has developed a line of craft organic sodas. They are using a proprietary blend of sweeteners found in nature and they boast a calorie count of just 8. As a soda lover myself, I could definitely substitute this product for the traditional soda lines.
  • Social Media businesses and mobile developers were prevalent this year in every aspect. Again, just confirms we are an advanced technological society. A couple that stood out from the crowd were Fuwak and payForward. The representative at Fuwak (who I think may have been the owner) really  had the most passion for the product. I think he might be a modern day Don Lapre!
  • Kudos to the U.S. Post Office for not giving up on “snail mail” in this era of electronic ‘everything’! With a pretty impressive island booth, they were there to promote the power of direct mail campaigns. In fact, the reason that we stopped by the booth was because of a direct mailing piece we received as attendees of the show. So perhaps they are correct? In our case it worked well.
  • My ‘Name Dropping Advertising’ award goes to Hampton Creek Foods. Somehow they were able to prominently display a quote from Bill Gates about their low fat mayonnaise product. Good for them – I doubt Mr. Gates is interested in any kind of financial kick backs.
  • Check out the cool meatball/cake pop roller by Heavenly Cake Pops. Roll 21+/- balls at a time that are a perfect 1.25″ in diameter every time! I watched it from scratch so I know it wasn’t just a gimmick.easy roller
  • Summer time is picnic time! What better way to upgrade your picnics than with some trendy, delicious Iced Coffee from Farmer Brothers. The portable unit is practical and easy to use. Hint: the French Vanilla was crazy good. This team also gets runner up for the congeniality award. Super consumer experience in their booth.
  • Last, but certainly not least, my all time favorite sweet at the show came from The Christie Cookie. When they say that on average they have 50% more goodness (nuts, chips, etc) in their cookies they really mean it! The ice cold milk being served with warm chocolate chip cookies just put the icing on this sweet NRA find.

Well that’s about it for 2014. Thanks to the National Restaurant Association for another amazing show!

If anybody has a special find of their own, please leave a comment and let us know.