Mary Pat Heftman, National Restaurant Association

Mary Pat Heftman National Restaurant Association New England Food Show
Last year’s crowd at the New England Food Show (Photo by Atlantic Photo, atph.com)

As Executive Vice President, Convention & Strategic Alliances, Mary Pat Heftman has full responsibility for strategic development, execution and promotion of the National Restaurant Association Restaurant Hotel-Motel Show (NRA Show), the largest annual food and beverage trade show in the world, BAR @ NRA Show, and the annual New England Food Show. She is also involved with strategic alliance development and oversees contracting for all Association meetings.

Heftman joined the Association in 1990 and has held positions of progressively increasing scope and responsibility. Her expertise in all aspects of the very successful NRA Show has led to the development of new events, innovative programming and event acquisition. Under her leadership, the NRA Show continues to gain strength as the leading event in the hospitality industry. Total Food Service sat down with Mary Pat Heftman to discuss the upcoming National Restaurant Association shows.


How did you get into the industry?

Mary Pat Heftman National Restaurant Association New England Food Show
Mary Pat Heftman, Executive Vice President, Convention & Strategic
Alliances, National Restaurant Association

Great story, as a college senior majoring in marketing management I had a really astute  professor at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana. He really believed in the medium of trade shows and brought us to  the Housewares Show in Chicago in January of my senior year.

As soon as I walked into McCormick Place, I fell in love with the power, energy and  professionalism of a face to face business event. You could just feel how a trade show could connect the dots between  professional development and business growth.

So  I got hooked and the rest is history. I moved to Chicago and started networking. That led to some opportunities in event planning and eventually an opportunity at the National Restaurant Association.

What have you learned through the years in your role at the NRA show that you will bring to the “Boston” show?

What really strikes me through the years of doing this is the amount of industry challenges that get solved through business events is really extraordinary. 

What you need to keep in mind is that although the world around us has changed there remains a key constant. Trade shows harness the power of people convening together.

Our shows do in fact offer many of the latest and greatest products each year as you will see in Boston. What our shows create is an efficiency for both attendee and exhibitor in terms of the amount of people you can see and talk to.

Our show also offers a very unique difference from finding a product on the web. In our world of food and beverage, the show enables you to consume, taste and to be able to see it cooking and test drive the  equipment in use as if it were in your restaurant.

Your shows have been known for bringing in some of the most sought after speakers in our industry.

Our goal is to provide value with what we like to call “Thought Leaders”. We will be bringing that same approach to this year’s show in Boston with notables including the CEO of TripAdvisor Stephen Kaufer as well as television personalities Robert Irvine and John Taffer of Bar Rescue.

I give a lot of credit to the Massachusetts Restaurant Association and Bob Lutz who’s just a terrific CEO for his unwavering commitment to his members to bring the very best speakers and educational program to help advance the New England food service community.

Mary Pat Heftman National Restaurant Association New England Food Show
The New England Food Show includes culinary and mixology demos, education sessions, products, samples, and much more (All photos by Atlantic Photo, atph.com)

Over the past couple of years, we are hearing from our reader operators that there is simply too much technology. How can your show help the operator create a strategy and filter through all of the options?

We look at it as helping our show visitors harness data. We look at the role of our shows to help operators more easily find what they are looking for. More importantly, we want them to be able to  predict the things they didn’t even know that they are going to need: Game Changers!

There’s also a great opportunity to continue the education process at our show. We will have a number of social media experts in Boston just as we have at the NRA Show to help you learn how to use those tools.

If we can help restaurateurs and foodservice operators be better marketers, then they can use social media tools to drive guest frequency.

Are consumers looking for green, sustainable and healthier solutions?

It’s still important to both attendees and exhibitors.  You will see a number of sustainable products and solutions in our booths.

Healthier eating is something that’s on the table. I don’t see any slowdown in that category. But you need  to keep in mind as we see the burger business continue to boom is that we are consumers who enjoy a wide variety of foods, and we are a nation of a lot of different desires. We are incredibly fortunate to live in a country where we have so many options to fulfill our collective taste buds. 

Usually we ask, why come to a show? We just interviewed Jon Taffer who will be keynoting – Blew us away… wow!! Beyond Jon, talk about what a restaurateur/foodservice operator can look to take away from their day at the show?

Not only will Jon Taffer be there but also Robert Irvine and the CEO of Trip Advisor. Our goal is to give our guests access to some of the best and the brightest.

Mary Pat Heftman National Restaurant Association New England Food Show
The New England Food Show includes culinary and mixology demos, education sessions, products, samples, and much more (All photos by Atlantic Photo, atph.com)

Can you walk us through some of the educational and seminar highlights?

Well it’s the combination it’s giving them some exposure to a wider audience outside of New England in terms of speakers. But it’s also making sure you’ve got some of the very best operators within the New England area to their sharing and you’ll see a lot of that in our quarters in different operators from the New England area sharing their expertise. Boston is really as you probably know a very tight knit culinary community and they really enjoy being together and learning from each other and then giving them a flavor to more nationwide speakers or people from a larger continuum than some of the restaurants within Boston.

As you look at your mix of exhibitors what are some of the trends that you are seeing that will be on display on the show floor?

There’s a constant evolution in terms of the technology that is fueling equipment and supplies that will be on display for both front of the house and back of the house solutions.

What are some of the new trends that our readers will be able to explore at the show? How about leverage about cannabis in the culinary frontier?

We are doing a session on building top performers in the area of workforce development, some business operation sessions and then a number of things in the technology area.

Is there a culinary demonstration component to the show that can help spur new food and beverage menu ideas?

We’ve got several different chefs doing a couple of small culinary competitions and then a number of chef demos. We’ve also got a couple of mixology demos that are going on and there’s a full schedule of all of this on our web site. We’ve got about 12 different chef demos and then also mixology demos that go on throughout the three days.


To learn more about the National Restaurant Association, visit their website.