Each year, roughly 60,000 restaurant professionals descend on Chicago’s McCormick Place to learn, eat, drink, and talk shop.

That event—the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show—has become the industry’s biggest can’t-miss event, offering thousands of company booths, dozens of educational sessions hosted by industry experts, and valuable networking opportunities with the industry elite.

The show, however, can be overwhelming—if you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s where we step in. We’ve put together our annual NRA Show preview to help you navigate your time in Chicago and make the most of the event, held May 16–19 at McCormick Place.

Visit QSR’s booth # 5338

Saturday, May 16

10 a.m.

How Technology is Changing the Restaurant Customer Experience

New technology can be difficult and costly to implement, and returns are often hard to quantify. This panel of experienced multiunit operators gives insight on how to make technologies such as mobile payment, variable menu pricing, and online reservations worthwhile and profitable for your restaurant. / BOOTH 5575

11:30 a.m.

21st Century Funding Options For Your Restaurants

Recent years have produced innovative funding options along with twists on old standbys. Learn which options may work best for your restaurant—from small IPOs and crowd funding to creative 401(k) use and new forms of EB-5 funding. / ROOM S404d

1 p.m.

Lessons From Leaders 3.0: How Fast Casual Inspires And Innovates

Listen to a panel of top CEOs from companies such as Fazoli’s and McAlister’s Deli discuss fast-casual trends and share their insights, successes, and challenges. Attendees will have a chance to engage the panelists in a Q&A session after the talk. / ROOM S404abc

3 p.m.

Batten Down the Hatches: Bracing for a Storm of Wage Increases

This panel is designed to help you join the discussion about wages in a way that is constructive for your restaurant. It combines valuable information on the state of minimum wage increases in the legislative process with practical solutions to decrease potential employee strikes and walk-offs. / ROOM S403

Next: Sunday, May 17



Sunday, May 17

10 a.m.

Growth in Franchise Systems: The Next Stage

Trying to take your emerging concept to the next level? Get advice for expanding your franchise system beyond the 50-store milestone and make valuable networking connections with developers. / ROOM S404d

11:30 a.m.

Winning Over Millennials: Thru the Lens of Chain Chefs

President Charles Hayes of the Research Chefs Association discusses the complex dining desires of the Millennial population and how your restaurant can best serve this health-savvy, tech-focused, and socially conscious generation. / ROOM S402a

3 p.m.

The Merchant Perspective on Mobile Commerce

The use of mobile commerce is quickly becoming a staple in the restaurant industry. This panel gathers leading retailers and restaurateurs to discuss recent developments in the technology and best practices for implementation of mobile commerce. / BOOTH 5575

Next: Monday, May 18



Monday, May 18

10 a.m.

Attracting, Developing, & Retaining Women Leaders

Hear from FOCUS Brands group president Kat Cole and Women’s Foodservice Forum CEO and president Hattie Hill about developing women leaders for your organization. The discussion will address executive issues facing talent and what to do about them, specifically as it relates to women. / ROOM S404abc

11:30 a.m.

Menus 2015: Turning Trends into Money Makers

Lifestyle changes have affected consumer preferences on everything from flavors to presentation. Nancy Kruse, president of the Kruse Company, discusses how to get ahead of menu trends and meet ever-evolving customer expectations. / ROOM S404abc

3 p.m.

Making Foodservice Sustainable by Design

Tie together efficiency and environmental friendliness in your restaurant by learning how to best maximize your resources. Find out what equipment options, design considerations, and best practices you should be focusing on to be up to speed on sustainability. / ROOM S402a

3 p.m.

Crowdsource Your Menu; Enhance Your Business

Arby’s corporate executive chef Neville Craw explains how to take menu suggestions from the front counter to the corporate office. Hear how Arby’s “Hey Chef Neville” crowdsourcing program works and see how this type of employee and customer engagement could work for your restaurant. / ROOM S403

Next:Tuesday, May 19



Tuesday, May 19

11:30 a.m.

How to Pick the Right Franchise

FranNet president and COO Jania Bailey helps aspiring franchisees identify and select the right ownership opportunity. The session starts with an overview of the industry and then delves into an in-depth look at the pros and cons of opening your own franchise business. / ROOM S404d

1 p.m.

Craveability: Building On the ‘Crave’ Factor of Food & Drinks

Demystify the factors that make menu items “craveable” and learn how to analyze consumer behavior to craft the perfect flavors for your customers. This session will also provide valuable information on modern demographic preferences so you can offer craveable items to your core consumer base. / ROOM S402b



Showcasing the NRAEF

Every year at the conference, the NRA showcases its long-standing programs and newer initiatives from the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF). The NRAEF will have a presentation and demo space at booth #6600 in the North Building, off the main concourse.

Ashley Mills, the NRAEF’s director of communications, talks about the foundation’s ProStart education program and what operators can expect from visiting the NRAEF’s booth this year.

What’s new at your booth this year?

In the past we have used the show to showcase our ProStart students, and that’s not going to change. But this year, we’re going to expand that a little bit more to make it more relevant for the show attendees. Instead of just walking by and looking at ProStart students, attendees will have the opportunity to talk with ProStart students and really get an understanding of how the NRAEF is training the future leaders of our industry, and how that can particularly benefit hiring managers in the quick-serve industry. The educational foundation is also taking an expanded role in working with the NRA’s Military Foundation, so there will be a Military Foundation presence in our booth this year, as well. It’s a terrific opportunity to understand the highly skilled level of potential employee that is exiting the military and entering the restaurant workforce.

How are your hopes for this year’s show?

The show is a really valuable opportunity for people to learn more about what the Educational Foundation is doing for the industry in terms of training and education. We’re hoping it will be more interactive so people can see how really highly skilled our ProStart students are, how ready to work they are, how excited and engaged they are in the industry, and, of course, how technically trained they are. I think it’s really impressive to talk to the students and hear just how poised and accomplished and knowledgeable they are in terms of reading P&Ls and doing marketing plans, and really knowing how to run a restaurant business.

What impact do your programs—especially ProStart—have on the quick-serve industry?

Well, from a bottom-line perspective, we’re training America’s future restaurant leaders through the ProStart program. The program is maturing; it’s now expanded into 49 states with 100,000 students in ProStart classrooms this year, and they’re learning those culinary techniques and restaurant management skills. We’ve just completed research of our ProStart students and educators that really validates that these students are ready to work and ready to lead. We know that both the students and educators agree that they’re learning really valuable employability skills like teamwork, workplace reliability, and workplace communication skills—all things that really help if you’re hiring and you want to someone who can help manage a quick serve and understand how to make eye contact with a customer and really elevate it to that professional level. ProStart students are ready to go.

Do you have any special programs planned?

We’ll be doing some presentations to highlight recent workforce research that we’ve done that we think is also really valuable to the [quick-service] community in terms of communicating that [quick-service] jobs are really good jobs and that our employees are proud to work in our industry. Our research showed that 90 percent of our restaurant workers were proud to work in the industry, and that will help recruiting, but also with reputation management, as well. We want to elevate awareness of what a career in the industry really looks like in terms of longevity and upward mobility. There’s a lot of room for advancement and a wide range of career paths, and we want to show what we’re doing to promote that, as well as resources to help operators talk about opportunity in the industry.

What would you want a quick-service operator to leave your booth knowing?

We certainly want the quick-service community to understand the value of hiring a ProStart student, but we’d also like them to understand what their opportunities are in their own communities in terms of being a mentor. Just going into a classroom and talking about what the business is and what the opportunities are is incredibly valuable for the students. And it’s a great way to get a hands-on role to help train the future workforce of our industry.

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