Ron Mathews, VP, Foodservice Events, Urban Expositions

Ron Mathews

As Industry Vice President at Urban Expositions, Ron Mathews is responsible for the strategic responsibility, portfolio branding, market positioning and growth directions for the Restaurant and Foodservice portfolio of events including: Florida Restaurant and Lodging Show, International Restaurant and Foodservice Show of New York and the Western Foodservice and Hospitality Expo. 

Total Food Service sat down with Ron Mathews to discuss the upcoming IRFSNY show and more.

What will exhibitors see and hear at the 2017 International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of New York?

For one thing, how Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality (and Shake Shack, of course) started out.  We’ll also have over 170 exhibitors. There’s a lot of brand expansion that comes into the New York market because it’s such a lucrative place and has so much spending going on. Our team works every single day to find the new, the exciting, what can add value and do anything they possibly can do to make the show as exciting and innovative as possible.

What award will Danny Meyer receive?

Danny Meyer will receive the Torch Award because of his visions and his philosophies. We’re honoring people in the culinary area who really make a difference and have brought it to another level through innovation, through persistence. Danny Meyer’s a one-in-a-million kind of guy, so we’re really excited to have him.  He’ll also do a Q & A with the audience and take some time to connect with people. As many people in the industry know, he’s a great guy.  He has a wealth of knowledge, and he’s very honest. He’s very forthright with the way he feels, whether it’s with a tipping scenario, his service style scenario, margin and costing scenario and the like. He’s very honest, and he’ll go through all those components.

What does the award signify?

The Torch Award, presented by The Food Shows and Ferdinand Metz Foodservice Forum, was created to honor outstanding restaurateurs who embody all the qualities and characteristics of the word Torch which symbolizes, including illumination, energy, joy, victory, enlightenment, hope and education. As a restaurateur extraordinaire and enlightened hospitality guru, Danny Meyer’s ability to teach and share clearly demonstrates the definition of the Torch.

Minimum wage is one of the key issues this year.  And Danny Meyer was the one who changed the culture in terms of tipping.  That was a sea change.  What are the needs of the community that you serve this year that might be different from last year and how is the show going to help answer some of those needs?

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The conversations around minimum wage have heightened to a level that so many people in the industry are really taking a look at it. Our industry is always quite the target, right?  Just go back through the years – smoking, trans fat, Styrofoam. It’ll be heightened over the next couple of years because it’s a tiered growth plan to get that minimum wage up. How it affects the restaurateurs, though, I don’t think people have really realized. People who want to see better wages for lower paid folks or entry-level folks see that as nothing but positive. It’s not that restaurateurs don’t want to pay a fair wage but they also want to be able to give the right product, the right service, and the right price to consumers.  Something has to give somewhere to make up for this massive increase.

So if you have something that’s 30 plus percent in the area of your overall cost of your business, and now it’s going to go up 20% in one year.

That’s a big hit! Restaurants don’t have a big enough margin to take that hit. A lot of them are taking it 100%. Many are increasing the price a little here, a little there, figuring out ways to run their business that won’t affect service, but can save costs.

At the show, as you look at your educational panels, what are some of the highlights?

Actually, this topic in particular, is a major one.  On Tuesday, March 7, we have a program that’s running from 8:30 to 1:00 on how to survive increasing the minimum wage by two experts in the industry, David Scott Peters who’s been part of our faculty for the forum for the last several years, and Darren Denington, They’ll talk about how do you recruit and hire better to retain longer to save some costs on your turnover? How do you put your purchasing programs in a systematic way to save some money on your purchasing, minimizing your loss to absorb some of the money you’re losing on that minimum wage.  They’re about helping the industry go forward, helping restaurants succeed.

One of the issues we’re all concerned with is, are people replaceable with technology? Are there technological efficiencies that can help make more of an impact on helping a business be successful?

We spend a lot of time out there culling and finding the best products and the best organizations that represent the next level of technology. There are a lot of mobile applications now.  You can order your coffee ahead at Starbucks and it’s ready when you get there. There are a lot of new apps out there – for ordering, paying capabilities, making suggestions on obtaining customer data, all those things.  You’re going to see a lot of things that are linking into POS.

The NAFEM show is a place where a lot of products are launched.  Will you have some of those products?

I’m sure people like Electro Freeze will bring something in. They had new soft serve machines, nine flavors coming out of one handle, this year. But that’s the great thing, Equipex always has something new in their induction.  I believe Taylor Products will exhibit some new heat treatment freezers that they’re representing.

It’s always a wonderful show in terms of new food trends, new beverage trends. Where are we in terms of healthier foods?  How does this show reflect how people want to eat?

You’ll see an increased number of healthy choice items and healthy options, whether it’s gluten-free or low-salt or different types of greens.  There’s an item in our new product area, called the Hummistir,  organic, shelf-stable humus, non-refrigerated until it’s stirred. GO VEGGIE is a shelf-stable vegan product that’s like a Parmesan-style topping. They say it’s the cheese taste but it’s plant-based.

And what about beverages?

We’ll have at least 15 companies in that area, and we’ve had a lot of craft beverages, craft alcohols, craft vodkas. And then there’s a great potato vodka, something called 1857 Potato Vodka. And that’s a New York-based product, coming from the Barber family farms in upstate New York. So the craft and boutique products are still huge.

What can you tell us about Ferdinand Metz’s forum?

We have 30-plus sessions that we put on every single year put together by Ferdinand and our faculty and our staff, programs that are vetted properly with the right content to deliver takeaways that have immediate impact for improvement in the business. So whether it’s figuring out how to cut costs, whether it’s how to use social media, whether it’s how to get better scheduling, it helps the restaurateur to become more profitable, to grow their business, build loyalty, become more systematized and organized. Because the restaurant business is crazy, no day is like the other. And these guys work a million hours. So if we could figure out how to cut a little bit of time, increase a little bit of quality, get a little more efficiency in there – I don’t think anybody can go into one of these classes and not pick up one immediately applicable concept or idea from that session.