John’s Interesting Finds for Caterers at the 2017 National Restaurant Show

The annual National Restaurant show in Chicago is always such an exciting time for the hospitality industry. For caterers, that certainly is no exception. You’ll find everything on the show floor, from container labels to food trucks, and everything in between. There is more than you can possibly imagine for catering and restaurants.

So, once again this year I spent a couple of days on the show floor, with my brother David, scoping out new and exciting trends. With thousands of exhibitors, it’s a pretty tall order to stand out and be unique really. So congratulations to all the vendors and products that made my 2017 list!

Full disclosure, I didn’t compile this list in any particular order of favoritism. I randomly crammed paperwork, cards, giveaways, and promotional material into my bag, as we all do, and present the list in my unpacking order.


Cool Catering Equipment

Thaddaeus Smith and his team at Sterno rolled out three exciting new catering products this year including the waterproof food carrier bag, an ice bag that will keep ice solid for days, and a ChalkBoard Chafer.


Best New Novelty Item

The struggle is finally over. Now you CAN have your cake and eat it too! OK, well maybe it’s just your hot dogs and soda conveniently together in a single container that you can hold in one hand while eating with the other. Perhaps this container from RP & Associates would make a fun addition to your catering food truck that gives you more branding.

The Future of Mobile Ordering Pickup

This might not quite be for the catering community but how great is this new mobile order pickup locker by Apex Supply Chain Technologies?! The consumer is given a pick-up code to enter into the ‘locker’ where their order is securely locked away and ready to go. Hey, Panera Bread and Chipotle, are you reading this??!!


Vendor Congeniality

This year’s award, and honor, goes to Steve Neerbasch with Fontanini. Steve lives by a very similar core value that we preach here at Total Party Planner which is “Treat every client like your first and largest.”  Steve treated us like we were a 5M client. Could not have been a greater guy – even knowing that there were probably a few larger clients he could have been spending time with than my brother. Connecting with your clients on a personal, almost friendship level, can go a long way in sales. I know my brother will remain loyal to Fontanini because of Steve. Oh, and let’s be clear, the Fontanini meat products tasted as close to homemade that we had at the show.

The New Business Card

It’s a pretty basic concept, but Dixie paper goods reminded me that there are other creative ways to get your name and brand out at the event besides the typical business card. I also like that it can be subtle. Definitely not for a wedding, but having a few sleeves of these on hand at your next informal events is sure to generate some new catering leads.

The Branding Award

As we just mentioned, branding can help to expand your voice at your catered events. Be visible. Be clean. Be remembered! There is no doubt that the Hippeas organic chickpea puff tradeshow strategists read their marketing books. They were undoubtedly a booth that stood out in a sea of new organic product booths. Take a look at the Hippeas website too – the branding is consistent everywhere. How do you make your catering brand “pop” in your marketing and at your events?

Honorary mention for branding also goes to Aqua Carpatica. I loved how the clear tables blended so perfectly with their overall water display and imagery. Even though they gave me a hard time for taking pictures of their booth (a really hard time!), I still thought they did a great job with branding.


Passion Sells

Is your staff as passionate about your company, food, style, and values as you are? It’s the most infectious thing that can turn a client experience into something that goes off the charts. I know some of the most memorable restaurants in town, for my wife and I, have been those where the waitstaff and management just EXUDE love for their food and jobs. It’s all the difference in the world. When we approached the Amylu booth, you could feel that energy and love. It wasn’t just one sales associate that came to talk to us; it was almost everybody. They were genuinely interested in sharing their passion for no nitrates, no preservatives, no MSG, and no artificial anything. Their desire was to make sure we tried almost every flavor sample. They were proud! If not for their passion, we may have simply passed them by as just another chicken sausage.


Thinking Outside (Or Underneath?) the Box

At first, I thought the Reverse Tap was just a clever conversation piece for a bar, but low and behold, there are a few benefits! Some of the benefits include no wasted beer for increased profits, hands-free operation improves work efficiency, and faster pour speeds to do more transactions. Anybody thirsty?


The science of Dripology

I learned that having grill grates from GrillGrate, LLC can actually enhance the flavor of your grilled foods. The valleys of the GrillGrates are a flavor enhancing system. Their trademarked dripology grates have valleys that vaporize drippings for added flavor and moisture. Juices and drippings fall into the hot valleys where they sizzle and vaporize into flavor and retained moisture. Potentially a must have if you are doing a lot of catering picnics this summer and grilling.


Expanding Your Market

OK, so we didn’t see the Canine Catering truck on the show floor; however, we did see it on the streets of Chicago. Fido to go is Chicago’s premier “gourmutt” food truck serving hand-crafted, gluten and allergen-free canine cookies & doggy ice creams/frozen yogurts. As a big dog lover myself, I think this is a brilliant concept! Why not expand your catering market to our four legged friends?


Bigger is Better

Last, but certainly not least, it seemed like bigger truly was better at this year’s show!

Well, that’s about it for 2017. Thanks to the National Restaurant Association for another amazing show!

If you saw something at the show that caught your eye, be sure to share it with us.