Slogging through the aisles
The Florida Restaurant Show started today and runs through Sunday. It’s open only to people in the industry. Members of the press can get in, of course. I don’t know if they consider a flogger to be a member of the press, but I wasn’t going to take any chances — I arranged for my credentials before I left the Orlando Sentinel.
I look forward to the show every year because it gives me a chance to wander the aisles of the convention center and analyze the products that are being touted and showcased. I try to glean some sort of trend from what I see there. This year, I can sum things up in three words…
Pizza, pizza, pizza.
Everywhere I looked there were people handing out samples of pizza. True, the Orlando Pizza Show is conducted in concert with the Restaurant Show, but even beyond the pizza aisle vendors were hawking cardboardy slices of pie.
(I just reread that last line — what do you suppose a pizza concert would sound like?)
If it wasn’t pizza, it was cheese. And not very good cheese, either.
The most interesting food items being sampled this year were the crab dishes from Handy. They had a passable crab cake and a pretty impressive soft-shell crab. I say impressive because it came breaded, cooked and frozen and was tossed in the fryer for a minute to reheat and add that all important grease note. I’m not sure I would have known any difference if I’d been served this soft-shell crab in a restaurant, but then I’m a little out of practice.
Since “green” is the politically correct buzzword these days there was a whole section of environmentally friendly items. The most interesting was a line of takeout containers that looked like conventional foam but claimed to be biodegradable. Watch for more restaurants to promote their green sides more this year. (A lot of vendors were passing out reusable cloth bags instead of plastic.)
Here are a few other notes from the aisles:
A pizza box carrier. This thing is ingenious in its simplicity. Have you ever tried to put a pizza box in a conventional plastic bag? Disaster! This device is made of the same material as your basic grocery store bag but it’s one long piece of plastic that when you lay it out flat looks something like a gasket: there are handles on the ends, and in the middle are two square cut-outs.
You place a corner of the pizza box in the square cut-outs, lift the handles and, voila!, you’re carrying your pizza box without burning your hands. You can carry two or three boxes in the same little sheet of plastic. Brilliant.
The “I’ll bet someone’s going to be impressed with that product” award:
The Glass Flipper, which sounds a little like it should be a fragile dolphin but is actually a device that flips glasses. This if for organizations that serve large banquets, such as hotels or big caterers. they take the water or wine glasses and put them in big plastic racks to run through the dishwasher. The problem is you have to put them through the dishwasher upside down, and when they come out, someone has to flip each one right-side-up so they can be filled with ice and water.
Not any more. Now you just put the rack in The Glass Flipper, give it a spin, and voila!, right-side- up with a minimum of breakage.
Literally. It’s called the Winesceptre. It’s a long, thin tube that is kept in a freezer. When a customer orders a bottle of wine, the waiter fills their glasses and then inserts the Winesceptre into the bottle to keep it chilled. The top of the sceptre has a stopper and pourer, so the waiter doesn’t have to pull the thing out of the bottle each time. No messy ice buckets!
The device I hope is run out of town:
An automatic sushi making machine. It’s like a mechanized cigar roller. You put the nori sheets on the roller, layer on the rice and fish and — no, this one does not warrant a voila! — out comes some pretty hideous sushi. I picked up a card from the vendor so I could tell you the name of the manufacturer. But instead I picked up a card for Sushi House in Orlando. Please tell me they don’t actually use this thing there.
There were signs that the economy is taking a toll. Most notably, Bari Foods, which usually has an elaborate booth, this year had no special trappings. Things are really tough when you scale back on your sales and marketing.
The most disappointing thing about the show was the convention center itself. Parking was horrible — actually nonexistent (I finally got frustrated and parked at Pointe Orlando and hoofed it) — and there were way too few trash cans in the exhibit hall.