Trade shows are great for sampling new products.

Trade shows are great for sampling new products.

Trade shows are great for sourcing new recipes or the latest technologies, but is the time they take worth the effort? By Christine Gellar

While running a restaurant keeps you busy enough, it is still important to keep up to date with the latest technologies, products and everything else that is exciting and new in the industry. However, as you already have a full-time job, it might be hard to find the time to gather the information you need to stay ahead in this increasingly competitive market.

“The nature of the hospitality business with its long hours and demanding work schedules makes it difficult for investors and operators to keep up with the latest innovations and trends,” says Timothy Collett, exhibition director, Australian Exhibition Services (AES).

That is where trade shows come in. “The food and hospitality are growth industries that thrive on new trends, ideas and products. This is the place where all the serious buyers and sellers will meet,” says Collett.

Trade shows and exhibitions are a recognised launch pad for new products and a time-efficient way to keep up-to-date with the latest innovations. This is where you can do all your business in one convenient location and it is your chance to see, compare and buy all the latest products and technology that will help increase the productivity of your business and lower your costs.

According to surveys conducted each year at the Good Food and Wine show, 15 per cent of visitors cited getting new recipe ideas as the main reason for visiting the show, while 23 per cent said they wanted to sample new products. Further, about 12.5 per cent of visitors came to the show to purchase products and 14.5 per cent was eager to watch chef demos. The good old wine tasting was popular with 12.5 per cent of attendees and for about 22.5 of visitors going to a trade show is just a fun day out.

Robby Clark, event manager, Exhibitions and Trade Fairs says that the International Catering Trade Fair (ICTF) attracts over 12,500 foodservice professionals looking for the latest products to create their next dish, to grow their business, reduce their overheads and develop their skills.

“Visitors can find the latest products and technology of which they can say: ‘hey, that can actually help me with my revenue’,” says Clark. “It’s your chance to see, compare and buy all the latest foodservice products and technology. It would take you many months to see this many suppliers so it is the ideal place to streamline your buying process with all the experts on hand to discuss your individual requirements.

“It is basically a one-stop show where you can get the latest equipment, products, get new ideas and meet with the manufacturers,” he says.

According to the US Centre for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), decision-makers are more likely to name trade shows as an ‘extremely useful’ source of purchasing information than any other media. The shows are a rich source of new ideas and applications and, as such, play an important role in strategic planning and business generation.

Trade shows encompass everything a restaurateur and their team need to make their restaurant more successful, and give them the edge. For Michael-William Kelly, show manager restaurant 06, it is all about making the restaurant run more efficiently and profitable. “Whether it is the chef looking to find fresh ideas and suppliers, or the restaurant manager wanting to source new wines and the latest technology, it will be the perfect networking environment to both inspire and educate.”

Trade shows such as restaurant 06 are regarded as a great way to inspire a new generation of chefs and floor staff. “People think it is easy to get into the industry and reach the top, but it takes a lot of hard work and people need inspiration from a show like restaurant 06. I hope it will encourage them to hang in there,” says owner of La Sala, Surry Hills, Darren Simpson.

“Over the past 10 years the restaurant industry in Australia has progressed phenomenally,” says Simpson. “Everyone talks about London and New York, but Sydney is right up there. We need to work more as a team and realise that we’re doing a good job. Together we can achieve maximum success and address the key issues.”

Planning is the key

A walk around a show’s exhibit hall will earn you a sackful of literature on suppliers, distributors, the trade press, and new market concepts. You can also have yourself put on mailing lists, participate in market surveys and earn complimentary subscriptions to a handful of journals, not to mention be given more coffee cups and laminated business cards than you’ll ever need. However, you must use the time at any industry gathering wisely and well. So, how do you go about it?

Organise your schedule, yourself and your time at the conference or show. If you can do this, then you will spend your scarce time profitably. Once you’ve identified a trade show or conference you might like to attend, study the agenda— according to a study by the US Centre for Exhibition Industry Research in January 2000, 27 per cent of attendees have an exhibitor agenda.

Examine the names and qualifications of the speakers and presenters. If you have questions about the event or are unsure whether it will cover the topics you’re interested in, call or write the sponsor. Select sessions to attend based on the questions you would like answered. If the event will include vendors, review the list of vendors and find out where they will be located. This is particularly important at larger events, to ensure that you’ll be able to see those vendors most likely to know the answers to your questions.

With the hospitality business involving much more than just the food and drink, trade shows such as restaurant 06, Good Food and Wine, and ICTF also have demonstrations, speakers and workshops—all designed to deal with the wide range of issues that are of vital importance to today’s restaurateurs, as well as providing hundreds of new ideas for your business.

“In one visit you will see and taste hundreds of great new products, discover new business solutions, meet Australia’s best restaurateurs, be inspired by the talks and demonstrations, taste new wines and speak to the winemakers, and catch up with friends in the industry,” says Kelly.

“Visitors will be able to see demonstrations and presentations to help them with their business and professional skills,” adds Clark. “It will be packed with the technology that will change the way you do business, as well as products to give your business the edge.”

Last month ICTF hosted the Le Cordon Bleu ‘Design A Dish Challenge’. The well-publicised skills shortage in the commercial cookery sector highlights the need to promote the career of a professional chef. The competition provided an ideal opportunity for cooking apprentices and trainees to engage in structured skill development while it also provided an opportunity for apprentices and trainees to network. “This competition showcases some of Australia’s hottest young culinary talent,” said Le Cordon Bleu vice president, Michel Peters. “It is an important part of developing the skills and creativity of our industry.”

Organising yourself and your schedule is not so difficult. Most conferences that you’ll be interested in have schedules of events posted on their websites. Visit the website in advance to determine sessions you’d like to attend. You’re looking for information, so invest time in the schedule to get that information.

Also, consider how well attended the show or conference is. As a general rule, one of the benefits of these events is the opportunity they afford to network with other attendees—so if the particular show you’re considering isn’t well attended, you may want to find another.

According to a recent US study ‘How much time attendees spend at exhibitions’, food and beverages attendees average 9.6 hours or 2.3 days. “We’d urge everyone in the industry to come along and make sure you give yourself enough time to make the most of the experience. An extra hour or so at an event could have life-long benefits,” says Clark.

This great content is produced for members of the Restaurant & Catering Association. Find out about becoming a member here.

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