Education and entertainment were on the menu at this year's National Restaurant Association (NRA) Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, held May 22-25, in Chicago, as the event delivered an unprecedented number of educational sessions covering a range of topics, while also featuring a foodservice flash mob dance.
Implications of federal menu labeling laws were discussed during the session, "Menu Labeling: Are You Equipped for the New Labeling Laws?"
Under the legislation, which was signed into law March 23, and preempts all state and local labeling laws, any foodservice operator with 20 or more locations will have to provide calorie counts on menus, menu boards and at drive-thrus.
There will also be special requirements for self-serve foods, such as roller grill items in convenience stores, according to attorney John Bode, who said calories per serving for each item will have to be posted on a sign adjacent to the item. He also noted touchscreens will likely be treated as menu boards and be subject to the standards.
While the regulations are in the works, implementation is still a long way off. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has until March 23, 2011, to issue its proposed rule, and then Bode said he doesn't expect the FDA's final rule until spring or summer 2012. Once the final rule is issued, operators will likely be given six months to implement.
To prepare now for what's to come, Bode advised operators to get a good handle on the nutritional components of their menu. "You may have characteristics that give you pause and make you think of ways to reformulate [an item]," he noted.
NRA Show attendees also heard from a panel of experts and operators who shared solutions for reducing food safety threats. The speakers in the session "Minimize Your Risk: Food Safety Issues That Impact Your Bottom Line," emphasized best results come when food safety is ingrained into a company's culture.
The show also featured live cooking demonstrations, celebrity book signings and on the final day, the "Foodie Flash Mob Dance." Show attendees took part in this choreographed routine set to Lady Gaga's "Just Dance."
Next year's NRA Show will be held May 21-24, 2011, at Chicago's McCormick Place.