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Attending a conference may sound outside the realm of the restaurant industry, but conventions, trade shows and expos are a great resource for innovative and growing restaurant groups. A food and beverage industry conference or convention is an opportunity to learn about cutting-edge technology, network with like-minded brands and understand what competitors are doing successfully, whether you are searching for a niche fancy food or natural products expo, a showcase for new technology like order aggregators, payment processors and customer engagement tools, or an annual meeting of the top minds in marketing and business growth. While it can be a large investment of time and money upfront, the return can be extraordinary if you select the right conferences for you.
Lookback: Restaurant Conferences in 2021
As large gatherings reemerged in 2021, several amazing conferences took place for the restaurant industry. Here is a look at some of the most innovative, informative and exciting conferences from the past year.
1. MURTEC Multi-Unit Restaurant Technology Conference
MURTEC is one of the leading annual conventions for multi-unit restaurants, with the goal of helping restaurants embrace new technology. In 2021, MURTEC featured speakers and exhibitors from Inspire Brands, 5 Guys, Brinker International and more with panels covering e-commerce, next-gen tech like Lunchbox and data security.
Name: Multi-Unit Restaurant Technology Conference
Date: April 13-14, 2021 (March 7-9, 2022)
City: Virtual (Las Vegas, NV 2022)
Cost: $395 Standard Rate
2. National Restaurant Association 2021
ShowHosted by Winsight and the National Restaurant Association, The NRA Show at McCormick Place in Chicago is the largest annual gathering of foodservice professionals in the Western Hemisphere. This trade show is a great opportunity to learn about innovative new equipment and technology as well as network with industry leaders, key distributors and suppliers and peers.
Name: National Restaurant Association Show
Date: May 22-25, 2021 (May 21-24, 2022)
City: Chicago, IL
Cost: $139 Standard Rate
3. FSTEC Foodservice Technology Conference & Showcase
FSTEC bills itself as the conference where the food industry and tech connect. This is the place to be to ensure your company’s tech stack is on the cutting edge. Panels include deep dives into creating memorable digital guest experiences, how to save on credit card processing fees and the importance of loyalty systems with speakers from &Pizza, Appetize Technologies and Kitchen United, among others.
Name: Foodservice Technology Conference & Showcase
Date: September 12-14, 2021 (September 19-21, 2022)
City: Grapevine, TX
Cost: Complimentary with Invitation
4. Food Marketing Conference
Featuring large and innovative speakers and sponsors such as Pepsico, Constellation Brands and Right Rice, the Food Marketing Conference is the annual conference to understand embracing change and stand out in a rapidly transforming market.
Name: Food Marketing Conference
Date: March 23-24, 2021 (March 22-23, 2022)
City: Grand Rapids, MI
Cost: $695 Standard Rate
HT-Next features technology solutions for the hotel industry. Featuring bold industry thinkers, HT-Next offers sessions on hybrid virtual and in-person conferences, making the hotel experience contactless and new revenue streams for a struggling industry dealing with supply chain interruptions and a labor shortage. It’s a place to meet CIOs & VPs of Tech, Customer Engagement specialists and Digital Marketing experts from some of the largest names in hospitality.
Name: HT- Next
Date: December 13-16, 2021 (TBD 2022)
City: Scottsdale, AZ
Cost: $495 Standard Rate
6. RLC - Restaurant Leadership Conference
RLC is the hub for senior leadership from top chains in the restaurant industry to network and discuss challenges in the industry. This year, they covered growth in virtual brands, managing multi-channel operations, staff attraction and retention and even lessons to be learned by NBA superstar (and hospitality entrepreneur) Shaquille O’Neal!
Name: Restaurant Leadership Conference
Date: December 6-9, 2021 (April 10-13, 2022)
City: Scottsdale, AZ
Cost: Complimentary with Invitation
Benefits of Attending a Restaurant Conference
Attending a conference can carry a large price tag, but the rewards can speak for themselves. It’s an opportunity to take a step outside of the hectic day-to-day of restaurant operations to focus on the future for a growing brand and building connections with peers and industry leaders.
As Liz Moskow, Principal at Bread & Circus Future Food Advisory, puts it, “There is no better way to ‘kick the tires’ of new restaurant tech, ask questions or learn about innovation coming down the pike than by attending an in person conference.”
Below we have some of the top benefits of attending restaurant conferences – with insight from industry experts and the Lunchbox team.
How often do you get to be in a room filled to the brim with peers, suppliers, potential vendors, industry experts and customers? The connections made at a conference can pay dividends for a lifetime in both business and personal growth.
Whether you are looking for mentorship, inspiration or commiseration, it can be found at a conference in both facilitated settings like a networking session, at a display booth or post-panel Q and A or over lunch, drinks or even in the elevator.
2. Learning the newest trends.
So much has changed for the restaurant industry over the past few years, it can feel impossible to keep up. Between panels and booths, you’ll get an overview of customer trends, marketing best practices and innovations in food and service, while also having the chance for hands-on experience with cutting edge technology.
You can understand both the practical uses for new pieces of your tech stack, as well as feel out the personality of a company before choosing a new partner or vendor.
3. Selling your brand.
A booth at a restaurant conference is a great opportunity to put your brand and product in front of potential customers and partners. Your booth can convey so much about your brand story by using as much creativity and personality as possible in your build-out.
Here’s a tip from Danny Strazulo, Lunchbox’s Head of Partnerships: Freebies! As he says, “Lunchbox has always given away cool swag that drives people to our booth.”
4. Forming partnerships.
We all know that the restaurant industry is a small world, and generally speaking, success is not a zero sum game. At a conference, you can connect with like-minded peers who can share challenges and success stories, with potential vendors from top of the line technology solutions, with food innovators making the industry more sustainable and with experts in marketing, predicting trends and rapid growth.
One of Liz Moskow’s favorite parts of attending conferences is chance encounters at unexpected times. “It's inevitable that even when grabbing a quick power breakfast before hitting the show floor that you'll engage with someone you didn't expect to and make connections that last a lifetime.”
Top Restaurant Conferences in 2022
In addition to our favorites from 2021, all of which are repeating in 2022, there are a host of other conferences where you can learn from the best and brightest in the industry.
1. Future Food-Tech
Future Food-Tech will be back in San Francisco in 2022 after a three-year hiatus. This summit will feature panels on innovations in sustainability, leveraging AI to save time and money, and how ecommerce has changed the game. Start ups can expect to participate in pitch sessions and tech displays with many potential investors and partners in the audience. For those with a particular interest in novel food, Future Food-Tech will also be holding a dedicated food expo in New York on the rise of alternative proteins.
Name: Future Food-Tech
Date: March 24-25, 2022
City: San Francisco, CA
Cost: $2,295 Standard Rate
2. Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit
Anyone who has or is looking to franchise would do well to attend the Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit. The 2022 show will cover topics such as maintaining strong company branding, consistent technology adoption and utilization across franchisees, managing and mitigating the labor shortage and taking back customer data, a panel sponsored by Lunchbox.
Name: Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit
Date: March 30 - April 1, 2022
City: Nashville, TN
Cost: $945 Standard Rate
3. Food on Demand
One of the conferences Liz Moskow is most excited for is Food on Demand in Las Vegas, the only conference solely dedicated to off-premises operations. It’s a must for anyone growing in the delivery, ghost kitchen or virtual restaurant space for insights into driving off-premise sales, utilizing technology and building alternative revenue streams.
Name: Food on Demand
Date: May 4-6, 2022
City: Las Vegas, NV
Cost: $795 Standard Rate
4. Future Guest Experience
Future Guest Experience is a premier hospitality technology conference with a focus on utilizing new technologies to improve and enhance guest experiences. While the event went virtual in 2021, it will be back in person in 2022 with opportunities for networks, immersive learning and panels with speakers and guests from all of the biggest and most innovative hospitality companies across the industry.
Name: Future Guest Experience
5. Ghost Kitchen Conference
The 2nd Annual Ghost Kitchen Conference will take place in Dallas this spring. This is the place to have your finger on the pulse of a growing segment of the restaurant industry. In 2021, The Ghost Kitchen Conference featured leaders in the Virtual Restaurant space such as Reef, CloudKitchens and Lunchbox.
Name: Ghost Kitchen and Virtual Restaurant Conference
Date: June 9-10
City: Dallas, TX
Cost: $895 Standard Rate
6. Interactive Customer Experience Summit
It used to be that the guest experience began when someone walked through the door and said hello at the host stand. ICX is an exclusive event for business leaders using technology to enhance their customer experience, which is now expanded to include online presence and off-premise service, featuring innovators and executives from retail, restaurants, hotels and more.
Name: Interactive Customer Experience Summit
Date: June 1-3, 2022
City: Columbus, OH
Cost: $495 Standard Rate
International Restaurant Conferences
Restaurant conferences are not limited to our backyard. Here are a few of the premier international conferences to attend in 2022.
1. Future Food-Tech London
With the same mission as the Future Food-Tech conference in California, meet with food system leaders from all over the globe in London this fall. In 2021, this global conference featured speakers from 42 different countries, allowing for a more holistic view of how technology is changing industry around the world.
Name: Future Food-Tech London
Date: September 22-23, 2022
City: London, UK
Cost: £595 Standard Rate
2. The Global Ghost Kitchen Summit
The Global Ghost Kitchen Summit is, aptly, a virtual conference bringing together leaders in the ghost kitchen space to share lessons from the front lines, automating a delivery system and best practices for branding and marketing without a brick and mortar.
Name: The Global Ghost Kitchen Summit
3. Food 2.0 Conference
This spring in Dubai, the Food 2.0 Conference will cover everything you need to know to operate in a post-pandemic world. This includes a keynote address on improving food security in the face of climate change, panels on innovation in food and beverage technology, insights into food safety and nutrition, and networking opportunities with global leaders across industries.
Name: Food 2.0 Conference
Date: March 21-23, 2022
City: Dubai, UAE
Cost: $2,000 Standard Rate
4. Global Restaurant Leadership Conference
For those still in Dubai in the fall, the Global Restaurant Leadership Conference will return for the first time since 2019. GRLC is expecting 1,000 senior executives from top chains around the world with a focus on successful leadership strategies and forecasting for the future of the world market.
Name: Global Restaurant Leadership Conference
Date: November 15-17, 2022
City: Dubai, UAE
Cost: Complimentary with Invitation
Conference Tips & Tricks from Industry Experts
Conferences can be intimidating! There is so much to see and learn, so many people to meet. When you’ve chosen to invest in attendance, the pressure to maximize your time there can mount. We asked our industry event experts for the best tips and tricks to get the most out of upcoming events.
1. Plan ahead.
The number one piece of advice we heard across the board was to plan in advance to ensure you meet the people you want to meet and see the presentations you want to see.
“Pre-conference preparation, hands down,” says Danny Strazulo, Lunchbox’s Head of Partnerships when asked for his number one tip. “Specifically, make sure you have meetings already set and confirm calendar invites for when you’re going to meet.”
Liz Moskow agrees, suggesting to research attendees ahead of time and connect. She continues, “Warming up these moments for connection ahead of time, allows people to present their best side and prepare for any great opportunity, connection or conversation that comes their way”.
2. Wear comfortable shoes.
Attending a conference is a marathon, not a sprint, so dress your feet accordingly. You will be running all around a convention center to ensure you see who and what you planned. Make sure to stretch in the mornings and be ready to be exhausted.
By preparing yourself for an active day, you can “leave enough time and energy for the after events, which is typically where the best networking happens” – according to Liz Moskow. Day to night is key.
And while you’re at it, “drink lots of water” advises Amanda Moy, Senior Event Marketing Manager at Lunchbox. “Stay hydrated. At conferences you speak to hundreds if not thousands of people in a very short amount of time.”
Attending a conference can be exhausting both physically and mentally. In addition to being on your feet all day and running from panel to panel, you have to be alert, friendly and social at all times. “Sleep when you can,” Danny elaborates. “You don’t always have to stay out all night.”
Before attending her first conference, Liz says, “I wish I knew that it’s more about being present than to see it all. Being intentional with your time and energy and allowing yourself enough self care time to make the most of [it]”.
You might feel like you miss a little bit each day, but you will be able to dive in head first when it matters.
4. Follow up.
After pre-conference planning, making game time decisions and coming home for a good nap, follow up with the connections you made as soon as possible. “You talk to so many people, it’s so easy to forget the conversations you had,” Danny explains. “Success in conferences is not always going to be direct ROI but you can make relationships at a conference that you wouldn’t be able to make otherwise that are very beneficial down the road in the next 6, 12 or 18 months.” Be patient but keep the conversation alive.
Amanda also advises finding ways to rework whatever materials you brought with you this time. You’ll see a lot of the same people and companies at these shows. “I think of these like a fashion show,” Amanda says. “I have to reimagine myself for every show. The challenge is to be different enough that people want to come back but recognizable enough that everyone remembers who we are”.
5. Have fun.
All of our experts agree that the top benefit of attending a show is the connections you can make. “In-person events are where hospitality professionals shine” Liz says. “I make sure to leave enough time and energy for the after events which is typically where the best networking happens as real relationships develop with industry people at cocktail parties, dinners and outings.”
As Amanda puts it, “2021 has given people the opportunity to go outside again and make those connections, so have a good time!” She does caution however to be prepared - understanding the big players and being able to speak to your own brand is crucial.
Whether you plan to stay domestic, travel across the globe or just log in virtually, there is a conference for everyone. By researching ahead of time and selecting a conference based on subject matter, speakers and attendees, you can be sure to have a fruitful experience, returning home with a deeper understanding of industry trends, a sense of the best current and upcoming technology solutions and connections to peers and leaders that could last a lifetime.