It doesn’t take as long to walk the exhibition floor at the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show as it used to. Thanks, Recession!
I look forward each year to walking the aisles of the show at the convention center to get an idea of what’s trending. By seeing what the vendors are selling and sampling — and what the attendees, the restaurant owners and chefs are buying — I try to discern what we’ll be seeing in restaurants the coming year. Yes, it’s a little like reading tea leaves, but sometimes the leaves are right.
But this year, as was the case last year, there are no tea leaves to read. Vendors and buyers, it seems, are still lying low, waiting for the economy to improve before making changes. At least in terms of food. I saw no food item that seemed to be “the thing” to have this year, nothing that was a must add for a restaurant’s menu. There were lots of cheeses, and cheesecakes, as was the case last year. If there was one encouraging sign it was that there seemed to be more vendors sampling beef products. Nothing extravagant or groundbreaking in the presentation, but it could be an indication that this higher-food-cost item is making a comeback. That’s much more encouraging than seeing aisle after aisle of tilapia purveyors.
But even while the food items are more at a standstill, the technology advances continue to intrigue. This year, the “best of show” was a device called MoneyCop. It’s an electronic reader that, when used on a piece of currency, will tell the cashier if the money is real or counterfeit. That a device like this would be named best of show is probably an indication of how widespread a problem counterfeit money is.
Another device that I liked was called Restaurant Manager. Actually, it was more like a software program or application that is used on a restaurant’s own devices. The app turns an iPod Touch into an electronic order taking device. The waiter at the table can enter in specifics about the order by touching the choices on the handheld’s screen. If someone orders the New York strip, for example, the next screen will force the server to enter a specific temperature. Then the order goes to the kitchen electronically without requiring the server to go to a point of sale screen to reenter the info. The company, ASI, also sells a device that can be attached to the handheld to accept a credit card swipe at the guest’s table. One assumes the handheld doesn’t store the credit card information for the server to use later on after his shift. I’m pretty sure.
There was one goofy food gimmick that caught my eye. It’s called Chipstix and is basically one long spiral-cut potato chip — actually more like simply fried potatoes — on a bamboo skewer and sprinkled with one of a variety of flavorings. I suppose it would best be used as a fair or carnival food rather than something served in a restaurant, at least I hope so. Because if this is the sort of thing that regular restaurants would consider, next year’s show won’t be any more promising.