Chicago-based Restaurant Virtual Ventures LLC announced the launch of the American Restaurant & Food Service Expo, online March 21 & 22, 2021. The Expo is an online trade show and educational conference, intended to connect industry buyers & sellers, and offer top-quality education to a recovering industry.
“The restaurant industry is having a rough 2020, to say the least,” says Marc Lapides, former Vice President of Marketing & Programming at the National Restaurant Association Show and one of the Expo’s founders. “But we have every reason to believe it will come back strong. We want to be part of that resurgence.”
The Expo will be held completely online in March 2021 with everything from chef demos, new product exhibitions, a peek at the future of the industry, and most importantly, the critical serendipitous meetings between industry buyers and sellers.
“I love in-person trade shows,” adds Lapides. “The annual NRA event which I worked on was great. However, are in-person restaurant trade shows a viable option for 2021? I just don't think so—at least not with the robust attendance of past years.
COVID-19 aside, restaurant operators need every spare dollar to rebuild their businesses. I just don’t think many will be able or willing to afford a plane trip and a few nights in a hotel to New York, Las Vegas, Chicago, Los Angeles, Orlando or any other cities that host shows. That said, they still want to see new products, find new foods for their menus, see the latest tech, and get the quality education they really need right now. We can offer them that opportunity and bring it right to their offices or living rooms.”
“The exhibitors I’ve spoken to are concerned about the enormous expense of putting on a first-class trade show experience,” says Chad Chappell, EVP of Business Development and another one of the Expo’s founders. “I came from one of the top exhibit booth design and execution organizations in the industry. I know just how large an expense it can be. Their concerns are compounded by the large question mark about just how many restaurant operators will show up.”
“We just launched last week,” adds Chappell, “and we’ve already sold booths and one of our three lead sponsorships. I’m an optimistic sales guy and that even surprised me. We have a limit of 750 booths we can sell and we expect to sell them all.”
SevenRooms, one of the hottest tech companies in the restaurant and hospitality industry, and featured presenter at the 2019 NRA Show’s The Future of Restaurants keynote, has already signed on as one of three lead sponsors. “We want to take advantage of every opportunity to show operators how our solutions can help their businesses grow while driving much-needed revenue to their bottom lines,” says Bianca Esmond, Senior Manager of Brand Marketing at SevenRooms, a guest engagement platform for the hospitality industry. “At SevenRooms, we are constantly introducing new features aimed at helping operators build more profitable, direct relationships with their guests. With in-person events going away for the time being, virtual events like this Expo are the perfect opportunity for us to share our industry-leading tools with a wide audience of operators, whether they’re at home or in their office -- furthering our mission to help them make exceptional experiences possible every day.”
“I think there will always be a place for in-person shows,” says Lapides. “I certainly hope so – they are so much fun. But with COVID-19 cases still on the rise, our team wanted to make sure that restaurant industry buyers and sellers still had a chance to meet, and that education crucial to help restaurants not only recover, but grow in 2021 and beyond, was available.”
Even with in-person trade shows coming back one day, there is a growing sense that online conferences and trade shows are just in their infancy. Working from home is becoming much more accepted and mainstream and proving to be quite productive for many. Just as people have discovered that they can conduct their meetings from their living rooms, will buyers and sellers conclude that they too can do their business remotely? “We can’t offer a similar great experience that in-person shows can, but I like to say we can offer a “different great.” There are things you can do with an online show that you just can’t do in-person,” dds Lapides.
Given the changes in the industry, there is an expectation that there will be increased start-up and franchising activity in the coming years with entrepreneurs taking advantage of lower real estate rental costs and historically low interest rates. The Expo will also have a Start-Up and Franchise section of the show, providing entrepreneurs with education on the subject, but also giving exhibitors the opportunity to meet potential customers before they’ve made any purchasing decisions.
“We have the right team in place,” says Chappell, “including experienced staff from restaurant trade shows, restaurant industry media companies, and physical trade show experts. I can’t wait to see the great things we will make possible.”