I am not sure what the final attendee count was, but my guess is more than last year and far less than 2008, when attendance was close to 55,000 over the four days. Like most things that occurred before 2008, NRA's annual event is what it is, rather than what was.
Attitude is what I tend to focus on most. Because I network and communicate and listen to what people are saying, my sense is that this year, the general attitude was great. Industry stakeholders were engaged and willing to talk, anxious to learn and happy. The big difference for me this year over prior years attending the show was how much time I actually spent on the floor. Generally, it's 3/4 of a day then bouncing from meeting to meeting somewhere in the Chicago Loop. In fact, when I left Tuesday afternoon, I was a little disappointed because I needed more time.
Groupon bought about an "acre" on the floor near the PepsiCo Foodservice booth. They planted themselves in an amazing booth that looked like a building...presumably a restaurant? Anyway, they probably spend more money at NRA than we have invested so far in FohBoh. Huge presence and dozens of green T-shirt clad twenty-somethings pitching Groupon NOW.
LivingSocial was also there with a slightly lower, more elegant profile. Their collaterals say "LivingSocial's customers are younger, richer & better educated," according to AdWeek, April 2011. Hmmm, compared to who?
Google made a big splash this year in the technology Pavilion area. Maybe they were at NRA last year and I just missed them. But they were pitching Google Places pretty hard in a very colorful booth with white carpet and Google-colored bean bags. I admire companies with nearly ubiquitous brand recognition that are still spending marketing money at conferences and pitching their wares.
TangoTab was another surprise, a good one. They help restaurant operators set up their own promotional "deals" and offer a guest rewards programs that help drive traffic through social network platforms. Their mobile app is very impressive and their team Andre Angel, CEO and Founder, and Jill McFarland, VP of Marketing, know their business well.
isispos was very interesting. SaaS disguised as an iPad POS system. Cool native application developed expressly for iPad. It is an elegant, practical and useful. The UI has been designed for ease-of-use and it's beautiful. Paul Perri has over 30 years of experience in the POS industry. It shows. This could be a game changer.
Monkey Media decided to host a dinner party rather than exhibit. Monkey Media Software offers enterprise grade solutions for catering, online ordering and managing BOH functions. Thank you Erle and Johanna for including us. Great fun, food and company occupying the private dining room at ZED 451.
Whentomanage was a very busy booth this year...which must mean something! CEO and founder, Jeff Schacher has a great product suite for managing back-office systems for business intelligence, employee scheduling, inventory, supply-chain and recipes.
I could go on and on and on. But, in summary, my four days spend in the beautiful city of Chicago, meeting new friends and FohBoh members, hanging with the amazing and gracious PepsiCo Foodservice team, connecting, re-connecting and partying with friends and colleagues was well worth the time and investment. So, with that, I thank the National Restaurant Association for continuing to host an amazing event year after year after year.
Catch all the chatter on Twitter with the hashtag #NRAshow.