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The Official Publication of the Illinois Restaurant Association
MAY 2017

Highlights from NRA Show 2017


NRA Show 2017 is in the books. Hundreds of IRA members and over 66,000 industry professionals from around the country make it a mission each year to not only attend the Show, but learn and experience everything that the premier culinary and hospitality exposition in the United States has to offer.


If you couldn’t make it out this year, we’ve got some of the latest trends and biggest takeaways from the Show for you.

Evolving Employee and Customer Culture

Foodservice operators learned more about the younger generations who are influencing the industry through education sessions and Signature ’17. National Restaurant Association President & CEO Dawn Sweeney spoke with Generation Z/millennial expert Jason Dorsey at Signature ’17 about how to understand and best work with the millennial and Gen Z employee and customer. Similarly, a Saturday education session took a deep dive into Gen Z, and a Sunday session focused on attracting and retaining the next generation of leaders.

Come As You Are

With sales softening, restaurants don’t have deep resources for costly alterations to save labor, despite all the automation that was evident on the show floor, a number of presenters noted. They tried to help the hard-pressed by sharing simple, low- or no-cost remedies for finding talent.

The Red Robin casual-dining chain, for instance, recently adopted a policy called "Come As You Are"; there’s no need to hide tattoos or piercings, explained COO Carin Stutz. “It opens up your workforce,” she said. She also noted that the chain’s CEO, Denny Post, recently got a tattoo herself.

Appealing to Prospective Employees

Part of the industry’s problem, several speakers noted, is how the business reaches out to younger people, both prospective employers and customers.

A more compelling invitation would work for both, they suggested. Stutz recounted how Slapfish CEO Andrew Gruel includes the line in every "help wanted" classified for the fast-casual seafood chain, “Food, fire and knives: How much fun could you have?”

Millennial expert Jason Dorsey was asked what pitch would most likely draw that much-targeted generation as customers, but his response would likely work just as well for describing a place to work: “As unique as you are.”

The Bottom Line – Pricing and Growth Strategies

How to Sell More Meals: Charge in Advance

A fundamental problem with restaurants’ mode of operation is charging on a meal-by-meal basis at the time the food is consumed, suggested Hudson Riehle, SVP of research and knowledge for the National Restaurant Association. Customers have been conditioned to calculate each expenditure and vote go or no-go right then, he explained.

A better approach sales-wise, he suggested at the Innovations Summit, would be charging customers a lump sum upfront and having them work off that balance—in essence, a meal subscription service.

Indeed, that arrangement may catch hold in the restaurant industry because so many consumers were exposed to similar setups through their college meal plans. “That will transport over to the commercial market,” he predicted. It isn’t a wild prognostication. Research shows that two out of five consumers would be willing to pay ahead for a meal subscription program, Riehle noted.

Copying Airlines on Pricing

Another beneficial change in restaurants’ core business model would be a break from the tradition of setting fixed prices. Just like airlines, restaurants could adjust what they charge to match shifts in demand, suggested Riehle.

Larry Reinstein, a fast-casual consultant who led a panel at the Summit, was even more bullish. He noted that airlines and hotels have taught consumers the principle of dynamic pricing. They’re familiar with prices changing from day to day or even from hour to hour, and no longer protest. “It’s not a question of if the same thing will happen with restaurants; it’s a question of when,” he said.


An overriding theme of this year’s show was the growing difficulty of staffing restaurants in a nearly full-employment economy. One of the few ways the situation is being eased, speaker after speaker attested: the boom in takeout, delivery and catering.

Orders placed digitally to be eaten at home or in the office tend to be several dollars higher than the typical transaction for dine-in restaurant, the proponents explained. “So you’re doing more for the same,” said Ryan Rose, CEO of Romeo’s Pizza, whose online orders tend to be $2 to $3 higher than transactions from walk-ins.

At the same time, said Rose, the absolute labor cost for a delivery can be lower because a driver typically commands a lower wage than someone working the counter or the kitchen, and part of his pay can come from tips.

Stay in the Know

In this industry, there’s always more to learn and never enough time. The IRA offers educational programs, networking opportunities, and special events throughout the year that offer great opportunities to stay in the know and connect with fellow foodservices professionals. Visit for the latest updates and events coming up.

The National Restaurant Association Show will be back on May 19-22, 2018. We look forward to seeing you all there next year!

Flavor Profile

Norman Bolden, Owner, Norman's Bistro


This month, we sat down with IRA Advisory Council Member Norman Bolden, Owner of Norman's Bistro, a Chicago neighborhood staple that offers Ameican Creole cuisine with a Brazilian flair. 


Tell us a little about your history. How did you get where you are today?  


I began my career at the age of 17 in the mailroom at WGCI-FM Radio through hard work and dedication I reached the ranks of an award-winning Advertising Account Executive. I have always had a strong passion for community with an eye towards economic development in the Bronzeville and North Kenwood community, I saw a need to create jobs and small business opportunities in these communities. I resigned from my position at WGCI after 25 years and began my mission to develop employment opportunities for those considered to be un-employable, thereby preventing unnecessary homelessness.  My goal is to make 43rd street a more vibrant and exciting destination in the 4th ward of the City of Chicago.


To what to you attribute your success?


I attribute my success to tenacity and dedication.  My moto is “If you believe it, you can achieve it”. Don’t give in to the naysayers.

What is the most exciting thing about Brazilian Creole cuisine?


American creole with a Brazilian flair exudes a robust flavor that keeps our customers coming back for more.   

What is your biggest reward working in the restaurant industry?


Seeing the growth of young people to whom I’ve had the opportunity to employ and mentor. It has always been my mission to develop individuals to move into areas outside of their comfort zones.

What are you looking forward to in the coming year?


I look forward to continuing to create more jobs and offer small business opportunities for the North Kenwood community.

What do you see as the valuable resources/services that the IRA provides you?


The incredible opportunity of networking with industry professionals, the amazing exposure with participation in events and all the training opportunities and legislative support that the association offers.  


Any advice for aspiring restaurateurs?


Follow your passion and do what feels right to you. Most will never agree with you until you win! 


Norman's Bistro

1001 E. 43rd St.

Chicago, IL 60653

On Facebook @NormansBistro



Protect and Prepare Your Business for Changes in Laws on July 1


Join the IRA, Heil & Kay Insurance, and SmithAmundsen Law for an educational seminar on the upcoming changes to Cook County and City of Chicago laws and learn about new ways to protect your business.


The following laws are going into effect on July 1, 2017: Cook County Minimum Wage Increase to $10 ($4.95 for Tipped Employees) City of Chicago Minimum Wage Increase to $11 ($6.10 for Tipped Employees) Cook County Penny-Per-Ounce Soda Tax Chicago & Cook County Paid Sick Leave.                                      


Find out what you need to do now in order to comply with these new laws, and learn about unique insurance policies designed to protect operators. The sessions will cover an overview of employer practices liability insurance (EPLI) and the claims typically covered by EPLI, including: wage and hour, EEOC, harassment, ADA, wrongful discharge, retaliation, and more.


Wednesday, June 7

2:00 to 3:30 p.m.

Conference Call

RSVP for Dial-In Information


To RSVP, please contact Eric Fine, Director of Sales & Marketing, at (312) 380-4115 or with any questions. 


Get In The Game with Illinois Gaming Systems!


New to the idea of incorporating video gaming in your establishment but not sure how to get started? Already have video gaming terminals but wondering whether you're getting the maximum benefit from your current terminal operator? Illinois Gaming Systems (IGS) can maximize your potential no matter where you’re at with gaming in your establishment!


IGS is the premier terminal operator in Illinois and the Illinois Restaurant Association's newest Platinum Sponsor! IGS looks forward to working and advocating alongside the IRA on behalf of hard-working restaurateurs.


With more than 25 years of experience, IGS knows what it takes to make our clients more money. Specializing in the operation and development of the highest grossing video gaming retail establishments since 1992, no one understands the video gaming business and the video gaming player better than the veteran team at IGS. Year after year, IGS clients rank as top performers in the State. It is no accident that IGS clients earn two times more than the State average. Simply put, our clients make more money.


At no cost to you, we provide a multitude of services that are guaranteed to make your experience with us pleasant and profitable such as application and licensing support, a dedicated account manager, advanced technical support, innovative reporting and analyses, full-service marketing and much more! We see our clients as business partners and as such work closely with you to develop your vision while incorporating our expertise.


Don’t leave money on the table! Reach out to IGS to find out more: (312) 544-9856 or visit our website at


The Hottest River North Rooftop Lounge Serving Avant Garde Cocktails


Apogee is The Fifty/50 Group's presentation of the ultimate high-point in the cocktail scene - 26 floors up in the iconic Dana Hotel & Spa, overlooking the heart of Chicago.


At the rooftop bar in Chicago River North, hospitality and cocktails are given the same level of detail as a Michelin-star restaurant. Apogee's master mixologists deliver quality cocktails quickly and consistently in hand-blown glassware and custom ceramic vessels. The bar sources produce, herbs, even flowers with the utmost care and procures them daily.


Guests experience an opulent lounge and rooftop setting with plush textiles, classic materials used in new ways to create fluted and marble clad walls with brass inlay, contrasting with the playful nature of the exterior grassy rooftop bar; the perfect backdrop for Ben Schiller’s thematic and creative cocktails.


Apogee is a place to party and a place to appreciate incredible cocktails served by passionate professionals.

To make a reservation today, please visit


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