My unpublishable interview at NRA 2014.

I’m guest-blogging on behalf of the National Restaurant Association 2014 Show.

Pepsi demonstrates how to cook with junk food! This lady infused the warm milk with RoldGold Pretzels on the path to creating a caramel/pretzel milk shake using (are you ready?) Cap’n Crunch!! Thanks, Pepsi. Yay, Trade Shows!
Pepsi demonstrates how to cook with junk food! This lady infused the warm milk with Rold Gold Pretzels on the path to creating a caramel/pretzel milk shake using (are you ready?) Cap’n Crunch!! Thanks, Pepsi. Yay, NRA Trade Show!

I’ll continue guest-blogging on the NRA Show site for the next few weeks. As a guest, I’m eager to behave myself, and I really enjoyed the Show this year because… well, you know how overwhelming a huge trade show can be: you hardly know where to begin, and you know you’re not getting everything possible from it because there’s just so much. Well, here’s what you do: Become A Guest Blogger for the National Restaurant Association blog!

Wow! I went to a session on pairing beer and food and they fed me (are you ready?) head cheese made from pigs who ate the spent grains from the brewing process! The head cheese was then soaked in this very beer, then served to me next to the beer! And I ate it! Even knowing it was "head cheese!" Yay trade shows!
Wow! I went to a session on pairing beer and food and they fed me (are you ready?) HEAD CHEESE made from pigs who ate the spent grains from the brewing process of the beer they were pouring! The head cheese was then soaked in this very beer, then served to me next to the beer! And I ate it! Even knowing it was “head cheese!” Yay NRA Trade Show!

My charge was to find out what people learned at the Show.

This is what was left of the head cheese after I decided if I were ever going to eat some, this was the place and the time and the mustard to put on it in case I didn't like it. But I liked it! Yay trade shows!
This is what was left of the head cheese after I decided if I were ever going to eat some, this was the place and the time and the mustard to put on it in case I didn’t like it. But I liked it! Yay NRA Trade Show!

And you know, my assignment induced me to tap into the crowd, to crowd-source news from every area of the Show in a random, amoebic sort of way. It was great. And my posts will continue on their blog for as long as (a) they let me and (b) I still have some good material. Check it out, if you get a minute.

The tick tick tick of the trade show clock is louder some places than others. Tech alley is still a place where time is slower and less jolly.
The tick tick tick of the trade show clock is louder some places than others. Tech alley is still a place where time is slower and less jolly.

But one wry, somewhat critical lady had some observations that I think were interesting, and thoughtfully offered, and fair, but aren’t exactly what the kind folk at the National Restaurant Association want from me. So I offer them here (and if my contacts at NRA are watching, don’t worry, it’s not THAT bad; it’s just not what you were looking for, I think).

So, I did what I did the whole show, which was, I waltzed up and said, “Do you mind if I ask you a question? I’m helping with the NRA Show blog, and they want me to ask what you’ve learned here at the Show.” Most people glanced at my press badge midway through my spiel and began nodding and smiling to themselves, unsure if they could think of anything though most of them did. But this girl gave a snort. “Mmmm, no, I don’t think so.” “No?” “Mmmm, well, you can’t use my name. Call me….Valerie. I’m ‘Valerie.’” “Okay, Valerie.”

And her main point was how challenging it is to come back to the tech booths, because she, as someone representing “a restaurant group in the Midwest,” was caught between two kinds of tech companies—a large one, that kept promising upgrades like migrating to the cloud and never quite delivering, and small tech companies that seem more eager and nimble but might not be at the Show next year.

Don’t mean to pick on these guys, but they don’t exactly inspire confidence that they’ll be back in a dominant position next year.
Don’t mean to pick on these guys, but they don’t exactly inspire confidence that they’ll be back in a dominant position next year.

“It’s a roll of the dice with start-ups who can’t back up what they say. They say they’re better or on the same level, but their product isn’t even working. But we’re interested in someone new because the older systems aren’t integrated, and aren’t 100% of what we need for POS. We need something for guest loyalty and our current POS keeps saying it’s ‘on the horizon’ but they don’t deliver. But we have too much invested with them already to just walk away and try someone we’re not comfortable with.”

She was frustrated, Valerie was. “It’s a roll of the dice,” she reiterated, not finding a better metaphor for her uncertainty with the state of restaurant technology.

I sure hope Valerie at least got some Rold Gold-infused Cap’n Crunch-caramel milk shake samples.