Education and innovation are critical to the success of most any foodservice company. In this blog post, FE&S Editor Joe Carbonara offers his take on how these two elements of success will play out in the upcoming NRA Show in Chicago.

There's an old adage that goes "time waits for no man." And as the calendar draws me closer and closer to the May 18 opening of the National Restaurant Association's annual trade show in Chicago's McCormick Place I am feeling the weight of that sentiment more and more.

The NRA Show? Already? How can it be? I am not sure I have even unpacked from last trip yet. It seems like we just left The NAFEM Show in Orlando and yet it's time to gather in a convention center yet again? There's a line in here somewhere about time flying when you are having fun but my feet continue to cringe at the notion that it's show time yet again, which keeps me from embracing this line of thought.

Despite the fact it seems the first five months of 2013 have seemingly transitioned from one meeting/conference/exhibition to the next, the upcoming NRA Show brings with it a handful of very intriguing features that should offer something for everyone.

For example, the National Restaurant Association has beefed up its educational slate this year. While I know the celebrity chefs like Anthony Bourdain, Cat Cora, Robert Irvine and Howard Schultz add some star power to the lineup, the other seminars scheduled have lots and lots to offer, spanning such areas as sustainability/social responsibility and technology.

A pair of sessions taking place on Sunday, May 19 might be of particular interest to FE&S readers. The first one is Seven Ingredients to Creating Food Service Operations that Support a Sustainable Menu, taking place at 11:30 a.m. This interactive panel discussion will provide the basic ingredients that go into developing a sustainable food service program, including reviewing facilities’ readiness, working with available supply chains, understanding how to offset the cost of fresher foods through facility changes and how to improve efficiencies. The authors of this recipe for success are four foodservice professionals who are experts in the sustainability arena: Greg Christian, Beyond Green Consulting; Melanie Smythe, Candacity; Tony Spata, Hyatt Hotels; and David Zabrowski, Food Service Technology Center.

The second presentation, Designing the Kitchen of the Future, takes place at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. This panel will look at how key menu trends, such as made to order and farm to table, are impacting kitchen design and it will explore how generational shifts will shape kitchen designs moving forward. Sharing their considerable design expertise during this presentation will be Costel Coca, Webb Foodservice Design; Beth Kuczera, Equipment Dynamics Inc.; and Scott Reitano, Reitano Design.

Personally, I am looking forward to The State of the Foodservice Industry, which kicks off at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, May 20 and features the NRA's Hudson Riehle, one of the most knowledgeable people in the industry.

And if you find yourself on the show floor late Sunday afternoon, please join us at the Kitchen Innovations Pavilion mixer, which kicks off at 4 p.m.

Speaking of seems to have become one of those ubiquitous terms in today's foodservice industry.

Manufacturers use the term innovation to describe the new features and benefits they have added to their products with the hope of drawing interest from the foodservice industry at-large. Undoubtedly, as the National Restaurant Association Show unfolds in the coming days, we will hear the term innovation repeatedly.

But what makes a product innovative? Well, as I describe in this restaurant development + design article, innovation is really in the eye of the beholder. Simply put: if a product does not resolve one of your pressing business issues it is probably not an innovation that belongs in your world.

When evaluating the shiny new foodservice equipment and supplies items it's easy to get caught up in all the new bells and whistles they now feature. But when evaluating specific items be sure to ask as many questions as possible to help make informed purchasing decisions.

Along those lines, for operators that require additional help with their projects, be sure to swing by the FCSI Ask the Experts booth on the show floor. There you will find independent foodservice design consultants lending their expertise free of charge.

Without question, the NRA Show represents the crescendo to a very fast-paced first five months of the year. If you are attending the show I hope our paths cross.