The 2012 National Restaurant Association Show came to a close about a week ago and I believe most attendees and exhibitors considered it a success. As a fledgling writer, I felt very inspired by this year’s show; and a bit disappointed as a food truck advocate.
Last year’s NRA Show was a whole new experience. Mobile Cuisine was still new and establishing its voice in the mobile food and food service industries. Last year conversations began in aisles, booths, at the Starbucks near the concourse and have been held since. Friendships were forged and potential partnerships are still being explored. Last year it was new. This year felt like we belonged… At least, that’s how it felt on the surface.
As mobile food advocates, we found the absence of the official food truck area a bit disconcerting. Stories were floating around as to why. One version stated the food truck manufacturers didn’t want to be next to each other. That could be true. Another version was that the NRA, not wanting to have an official food truck space in the show, placed mobile food–focused vendors throughout the two halls.
Along with the scattered mobile food-focused vendors, the seminars that covered the topic went from nearly a dozen last year to less than 5 this year. It gave the impression that the NRA doesn’t take this “trend” seriously.
One serious bit of information was circulating through the mobile food–focused vendors. It was announced that 22% of the NRA’s fast-casual restaurant members are interested in starting food trucks. This statistic was a bit mind numbing, but not surprising. Consider the $100s of millions of dollars brought in by these large corporations and their interest in what some call a “passing trend.” Soon, a Burger King truck could be parked next to the Grill ‘Em All truck. The success of either truck STILL relies on consumer preference.
This statistic not only validates that food trucks aren’t a trend, but a viable source of income, brand extension and a business that should be supported in their respective communities, local governments and the National Restaurant Association. After all, food trucks, whether they have a brick and mortar home base, are corporate supported or independently owned, are mobile restaurants and should be welcomed into the NRA family.
It seems strange that the NRA has distanced itself from the whole mobile food debate – locally and nationally. For an organization that lobbies on behalf of and supports restaurants on every level, one has to ask, why wouldn’t the NRA want include these businesses in the conversation?
While walking the show floor, we ran into several of the local Chicago food truck owners and met others that are about to open their new trucks in unexpected places around the country. These mobile restaurant owners are not renegade, fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants truck operators. They are restaurant owners with many of the same concerns as their brick and mortar counterparts, along with a whole host of other concerns. They’ve made the investment to attend the show and build relationships in the industry. The industry needs to open their arms and welcome them to the food service family.