An entire industry is focused on finding their next chapter. In light of this, a trip to the annual upcoming New England Food Show becomes more important than ever on a restaurateur’s agenda. Slated for April 2nd-4th at Boston’s Convention and Exhibition Center, the show offers a comprehensive portfolio of solutions that deal with the diverse set of challenges facing New England and the nation’s restaurant and foodservice professional.
“Our industry has severe labor challenges that includes both a growing minimum wage and a shrinking front of house and culinary talent pool,” noted Stephen Clark, President & CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. “With that in mind the New England Food Show floor will be packed with technology trends in restaurant and hospitality. Automated kitchen and back-of-house solutions innovative new mobile and online ordering systems, digital signage, menu boards, new catering and delivery service options, AI-powered customer service applications, and cloud-based analytics tools, will also be available to test drive on the show floor. We really have an eye on how quickly tech changes in our industry and a trip to our show can keep the operator on top of the very latest developments.”
The New England Food Show is an annual event that brings together foodservice professionals to network, get educated on the latest trends in the industry, and connect with suppliers and vendors. “The post-pandemic timing really offers a unique opportunity,” Clark noted. “A company providing food equipment and supplies, or a service can bring all their customers into one room and have a conversation with them. That one-on-one relationship with both existing and potential customers was sorely missed over the past three years.” Many operators in New England have found the show to be a perfect venue to assemble their general management teams.
“Whether it’s a 10-minute drive from Downtown Boston or a 1 ½ hour drive from Maine, the show offers unique value,” Clark added. “What this is really all about is in many ways the limitations of the internet. How do you see a new product demo online, especially something that needs to be tasted? Keep in mind too that not only is it about new products, it’s also about new faces because of all the turnover in so many different industries.”
The New England Food Show has committed its resources to understand the needs of the 15,000 or so food and beverage operations across Massachusetts. “I was talking to one of our members who told me how that the show was the only place that he could get information on a number of different products,” Clark said. “He told me that he needs the show floor to be able to find and test all of the alternatives that are available. He also went on to tell me that it’s a lot easier to get out of the restaurant be able to make a good decision and not have to worry about getting lunch out to a guest at the same time.” Another operator said the Show was where she went to make many of her operational decisions for the next 3-4 months.
The New England Food Show has become a leading resource for the operator looking for how to balance the growth of Takeout and Delivery during the pandemic with the return of the in-restaurant dining patron. “One of the key takeaways from the Pandemic, is that as an industry, we taught people how to eat at home from our restaurants,” Clark noted. “Our goal is to provide a look at the latest in packaging and menu items that travel well. At the same time, we have an eye towards the trends in green and sustainable packaging, we also look to provide the POS knowledge so that I’m not overloading my kitchen on a Friday night at 6 o’clock when I have a full dining room and a 20% increase in orders to go. This has actually taken us to a deep dive on how to remodel a kitchen to be able to handle the growth.”
The “Boston show” has become an important resource for menu planning trends. “Most recently, we are seeing a lot of questions about Mocktails,” Clark added. “We also understand the reality of economic cycles and will be hosting a butchery demo on the use of less-expensive beef cuts. We also have an eye towards the challenges of food allergens with Chef Ming Tsai’s culinary keynote.”
“We built the show’s educational program by listening carefully to the needs of our membership,” Clark noted. “We started with an overview of culinary trends, not only what is happening across the country, but different models that are being explored in Europe. The starting point was to help our operators look at their Post Pandemic P&L. That then moves into takeout and delivery and outdoor dining. The next track is then to look at the tech from Web 3.0 to robotics and of course non-traditional talent recruitment. We even have a focus on helping the operator to understand how social media which was focused on Facebook for so long has now migrated to TikTok.”
The Clark led MRA advocates for the Commonwealth’s restaurant industry. During the pandemic, the MRA advocated for legislation to expand outdoor dining, authorize cocktails and mixed drinks to be included in to go orders and lobbied for additional resources including direct grants and monies to provide funding for lighting, texts and heating.
The MRA was at the front of the battle to pass a bill limiting third-party delivery fees. The MRA advocated for payroll tax credit for restaurants and reimbursable paid sick leave program for leave during the state of emergency. Clark and his team pushed for restaurants to continue to push for a relaxation of pandemic related protocols.
“We understand the challenges of the Big 3: Labor, Supply Chain and Inflation. With that our goal is to help our restaurant industry build their 2023 and beyond strategy,” Clark concluded. “The show is all about an opportunity to reconnect on so many levels.” Exhibitor and attendee information can be found at their website.