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Top of Mind for The NAFEM Show 2019: Solutions, Education, Innovations

 Six pros share strategies  and intent as they look ahead to The NAFEM Show 2019

Chris WairSome key themes emerge when asking industry professionals about their plans for The NAFEM Show 2019. These include an ongoing search for more energy and resource-efficient equipment and a wish for more (and more affordable) technological solutions geared to smaller operations. They also share a deep appreciation for the show as an opportunity to educate and ignite passion for the industry and newcomers.

Another unanimous agreement among the been-there-done-that group is that making the best use of time at an event like The NAFEM Show takes forethought and planning well before touching down in the Sunshine State. Here, six experienced show attendees share what they will be scouting as they traverse The NAFEM Show 2019.

Chris Wair, FSCI, Design Principal , Reitano Design Group, Indianapolis

Are you a regular attendee at The NAFEM Show?

Yes. I have attended for the past 30 years. I may have missed one or two that I can’t recall, but I enjoy this show a great deal and try not to miss it.

What one industry trend or issue will be top of mind for you as you walk the 2019 show?

Sustainability. We have worked on several projects over the past two years or so where LEED, food-waste reduction and waste handling have been top drivers of our design. We will look at waste dehydrators, grinders/pulpers, variable-speed exhaust equipment, anything that might be new with an Energy Star rating and alternative refrigeration systems, to name a few.

What’s on your show radar in other categories?

One other area that I’ll be most interested in will be food display. This covers many disciplines — refrigeration, hot, ambient, packaged, fresh ready-to-eat, etc. As design consultants, this is where we have the greatest opportunity to couple aesthetics and food quality. Kitchens can produce great, fresh products and they can be destroyed by poor handling at the point of service. We will be looking for great-looking equipment that will also deliver to the customer a well-maintained, quality food product.

Any new solutions you’d love to be able to discover at The NAFEM Show?

From a specifier’s point of view, I would like to see a moderately priced (OK, cheap) blast-chilling system that worked well so that we could put one in every project and be assured it isn’t left off due to budget issues. There are certainly moderately priced versions on the market, but those are limited by size. I would like to be able to convince all of our project end users how important blast chilling is from both a product quality and food safety perspective, and have them buy in — literally and figuratively.

Do you have any particular strategies for working events like The NAFEM Show?

Our team will have a couple of informal discussions before leaving for NAFEM to get an idea of our top three or four most pressing items/issues to concentrate on while we’re there. We’ll map out the manufacturers that we believe we need to see, those that will best address the products and/or issues we’ve prioritized. We’ll then spend the better part of day one at the show concentrating our efforts on those items and making certain we’ve gotten the information that we were looking for from the selected manufacturers. After that, days two and three are for exploring the show looking for new products, visiting manufacturers that we specify on a regular basis, taking another look at the ones we might not use as much and, most importantly, connecting with old friends that we don’t see often enough.

Ken Schwartz Studio FSKen Schwartz, FCSI, President and CEO, SSA Foodservice Design + Consulting, Tampa, Fla.

How regularly do you attend The NAFEM Show?

I have attended every NAFEM Show since approximately 1991, but some of it is a bit of a blur!

What one industry trend or issue will be top of mind for you as you walk the 2019 show?

For me, it’s all about innovations. Innovations represent a commitment to the industry, to the end users and to the guest experience, while at the same time creating operational efficiencies. Innovators are typically leaders investing in success versus those attempting to catch up. We seek innovation in and for every aspect of each project and we use The NAFEM Show to learn about what’s new and innovative in product categories of all shapes and sizes. Finding value and resources for our clients helps us to remain a trusted partner in their growth and success.

Are there any new solutions you’d like to discover  at the show?

Yes, but top on my wish list is more a tool than a product, per se. Most manufacturers have embraced [Building Information Models (BIM)], which allows us to create for our clients and which greatly benefits the manufacturers. We applaud those who have made the commitment, but many have not. And some have approached [BIM] in a way that makes their information and their investment in it cumbersome and/or useless. We need a forum to discuss this openly in a way that will allow us to help each other.

What’s your or your team’s strategy for working the show to ensure the best use of time and resources?

We usually divide and conquer. Attending The NAFEM Show is a large financial commitment, but we feel it is imperative for every member of our firm to attend. We require and challenge each team member to learn two to three new things each day at the show that they did not previously know and then share this information with the rest of our team.

Any tips you’d offer to a first-timer to have a great, productive show experience?

Have a game plan of whom or what you would like to see, map it out and then stick to your plan so you don’t run out of time. Once you have accomplished your goals, walk the rest of the show to get a sense of what is being exhibited and make notes along the way to remind yourself of what you would like to see next. Then use those notes to map out your next day. It is easy to get bogged down, so keep moving! You don’t want to miss anything.

beth pellegrinoBeth Pellegrino, Director of Dining Services, Westtown School, West Chester, Pa.

 How often do you attend The NAFEM Show?

This will be my first show.

What will be the focus of your trip to the show?

We have a big project coming up. We’ll be either completely renovating or building a new dining room for our school, which is a pre-K through 12 boarding school that has adopted a farm-to-table foodservice program. From attending the FED Summit, my mind was turned on to thinking more about innovation and how I could better equip my staff to be able to focus more on human interactions. So, how can we make things more efficient for them so that they can spend their time with customers? How can we take them away from having to do so many tedious, repetitive tasks and put them in front of people to create a better experience?

What types of products might help you do that?

Something that’s very specific for me is the whole farm-to-school movement. We still struggle with how to process vegetables on a much larger scale. I’ll be looking for innovations that will help us streamline that process. We have our own farms and things are constantly coming to us whether we knew we were getting them or not. We then have to figure out cleaning, storing, processing and preserving. Products like dehydrators could be really important to help us better utilize farm food and streamline our processes.

I’ll also be looking at smart technologies and self-monitoring equipment. Our current kitchen is old and we’re constantly dealing with breakdowns and maintenance issues. How cool would it be in our new kitchen to have equipment that tells us when it’s sick or when it needs something? And smart, programmable equipment would make it easier for the staff, many of whom have limited training and culinary skills, to produce better quality food more consistently.

What’s one area that you wish equipment manufacturers would focus more attention?

I used to be part of large foodservice management companies, but this operation is small. We struggle a bit with technology in our systems. I don’t know … maybe it’s already out there, but I’d love to see someone target tech-based systems and equipment for smaller, independent businesses. If I was part of an Aramark or Sodexo, I’d already have comprehensive systems for everything from purchasing and inventory, to scheduling and recipe management. But we struggle a bit in that realm. So I’m hoping that in addition to equipment, per se, there will be a lot of people at the show who can talk to me about integrated technologies that fit my business.

What’s your game plan for tackling the show?

You could spend all day walking up and down aisles and talking to vendors, but I’m putting specific education opportunities, like the sessions offered at the NAFEM booth, at the top of my to-do list. Then, I’ll give myself some blocks of time for walking the show. And the parties look like a lot of fun.

lowresLenny CondenzioLenny Condenzio, FCSI, CEO,
Ricca Design Studios, Boston

How often do you attend The NAFEM Show?

I go every time. I don’t think I’ve missed one.

What industry trends or issues will be top-of-mind as you walk the 2019 show?

The big-picture issues that drive so much of every project right now. They’re led by sustainability — energy-efficiency, waste management and water savings, in particular — durability, automation and ease of use, whether for customers or employees. As the economy gets stronger, the labor market for this industry just becomes more challenging, so we’ll have labor-saving solutions on our radar. Of course, as design consultants we’re interested in every corner of front and back of house, so we’re also just really excited to see what’s there and what’s new.

You’ve said the show also helps with your own labor issues. How?

We find that it can be a pretty powerful recruitment and retention tool. We have a lot of associates who are new to foodservice and who really don’t understand how broad it is. We use NAFEM not only as a place to learn about equipment, but a place to show our staff just how big and important the industry is. Everyone is there, from manufacturers and reps to consultants and dealers and operators. You get a very good picture of the many layers and career opportunities in foodservice. I love taking new people there and seeing them get as excited about this industry as I am.

Does your team take clients along to the show?

Not per se, but we encourage them to attend. It’s only every other year, and with one round-trip ticket you can see a lot, so it’s a good use of time. We do have many clients who take advantage of the show because it’s such a great place to learn about equipment, service and manufacturer commitment to service. We always carve out time to spend with them at the show, addressing their needs and interests.

Managing time while you’re there must be challenging. What’s your strategy?

We put quite a bit of thought and work into it well before the show to make sure that we have the right people going and a plan for making the best use of everyone’s time. That process usually starts in July and August. We look at everyone’s project portfolio to help determine who should go and who could benefit most from being able to put their hands on pieces of equipment and discover solutions for design conversations they’re having with clients. We make sure everyone has a game plan. After the show, whoever attended is asked to present what he or she experienced and learned at a lunch-and-learn type session for those who couldn’t go. It spreads the knowledge and also reinforces to everyone who goes how important it is.

Lu SchildmeyerLu Schildmeyer, Principal, Owner, Lu S Design Associates, Tacoma, Wash.

How often do you attend The NAFEM Show?

I’ve gone to every show for the past 18 to 20 years.

What industry issues or specific product categories will be top-of-mind as you walk the 2019 show?

Footprint size and cooking equipment that doesn’t have to be underneath a Type 1 ventilation hood. Footprints are shrinking both for kitchen and bar, so I’m looking at ways to help my clients be able to do more with less space. That includes equipment solutions that are compact, self-venting and multifunctional. I’ll also be looking at warewashing solutions. More and more clients are interested in purchasing rather than leasing, in part because the leasing options are just too limited. And overall, anything related to energy efficiency — solutions to help operators be able to reduce their water and power usage — will be top of mind.

What’s one area that you wish equipment manufacturers would focus more attention?

I’d like to see more and faster development of mission-critical technology solutions targeted at smaller, independent bar and restaurant operations. Large-volume operators can take advantage of things like pulpers and digesters for waste management, for example, and of blast chillers for efficiency and food safety. But small establishments have few options that fit within their footprints or their budgets. That may be starting to change — I’ve seen a smaller trash compactor, for instance, and an undercounter blast chiller — but we need more. The big innovations seem to come out first for the large-volume operators and it takes years for things to trickle down to the small restaurant market, which actually makes up the bulk of the industry.

Do you take a team with you to the show?

Our team consists of my wife and me, and we always use The NAFEM Show as a mentoring opportunity by bringing along two or three people who are just coming into the industry from other design disciplines. It’s a great learning opportunity. There’s no other show that compares because it’s so big and at the same time so focused.

What advice for working the show would you offer to first-time attendees?

First, don’t try to do the show in one day. If you really have only one day, however, make sure to go online and do all of your homework, know who you want to talk to and map out a plan before you get there. And while you’re walking the show, don’t be distracted by exhibitors trying to get you to stop by. You don’t have the time and you owe it to yourself to stay focused. Even if you have the full three days, you have to be selective. The meet-and-greets and networking can
and should happen later.