5 Things We Learnt At NRB 2018

On March 20th and 21st, the beautiful arched roof space of the Manchester Central Convention Complex once again played host to the North’s premier hospitality show — Northern Restaurant & Bar 2018.

Stephensons are one of the longest running exhibitors at NRB, and we were delighted to be able to kick off our 150th anniversary celebrations during a show that’s renowned for its buoyant atmosphere and engaging events.

Throughout the two days we had a lot of fun showing off brand new products on our custom-built, open plan wooden stand. Along the way we launched our most extensive catalogue ever, as well as our limited edition celebratory newspaper — all the while meeting friendly faces from all facets of the hospitality industry and giving advice and inspiration.

Here are some of the things we learnt from our wooden vantage point on stand D37, as well as through a few explorative trips across the convention hall…

1. Plastic straws may soon be a thing of the past

Here at Stephensons, we’ve been pushing alternatives to plastic straws for quite some time, but even our experienced team were shocked at how often the topic came into conversation. It seems that so many operators have decided or are looking to make a responsible change and as such our sustainable straw section went down an absolute treat. People were constantly enquiring about styles, prices, disposal methods and availability. What a difference a few months can make for the whole industry.

To view our range of eco-friendly straws, click here.

2. Technology is a touchy subject

In the fascinating Bruntwood debate on the embracement and efficiency of technology in hospitality, an expert panel consisting of Jamie Cambell; Gavin Adair; Nadia el Hadery; Laurence McCarthy and Johnny Smith discussed change and challenges for the industry. As is often the case with such mass and rapid transformation, opinions were mixed.

Some traditionalist views floated around expressed how technology, such as mobile ordering, could impact negatively on customer satisfaction as it removes some integral aspects of interaction and communication. One thing Johnny Smith said sums this up saliently — “ultimately your job is in hospitality. You should want to spend one on one time with the customers”. There were also interesting points raised about the effectiveness of technology though, with Johnny equally remaking on how the booking system ‘Tock’ has helped with organisation and reducing the number of no-shows. Another advocating voice for the embracement of new tech came from Nadia, who raised a strong point on how technology can be used to aid sustainability by measuring, amongst other things, wastage. This type of information will be crucial for if (most likely when) government sanctions on sustainability are introduced for businesses.

Regardless of your stance, technology will play a key role in the future of the hospitality industry. What’s important to remember is the CGA fact displayed at the beginning of the debate — 81% of people say the experience of eating out is the most important factor. So, if you are trying out some newfangled approach, make sure any use of technology will help, not hinder guest experience.

3. Presentation can’t be overlooked

We were once again honoured to be headline sponsors of the fantastic Food Porn Awards, who had their awards presentation on the Wednesday afternoon of NRB. Back in February, our MD Henry had the difficult task of helping judge the winners of these awards, and if you’re wondering exacly what all the fuss is about, here’s a quick explanation… The Food Porn Awards is a unique competition that seeks to celebrate the aesthetics of food, with dishes judged by their appearance. Simple as that.

It was great to be at the NRB Hub on Wednesday to see the eventual winners unveiled and thanks to everyone involved for a great ceremony. We want to wish a huge congratulations to L20, Peace & Loaf and Wood Manchester for their wins and also well done to all the entrants involved. As mentioned earlier, dining out is an experience and the Food Porn Awards helps celebrate a crucial part of that experience — HOW IT LOOKS!

4. Champagne and cake make for great break

Despite the buzz at NRB, working on the stand showing off new products and speaking to a million different people can be a tiny bit tiring. So, how pleased and grateful must we have been when out of nowhere the Stephensons stand was surprised by NRB CEO Thom Hethrington and Matty White who came bearing gifts of cake and champagne.

It turns out that the lovely lot at NRB were there to share some well wishes for our 150th anniversary, and we were very happy indeed for the unscheduled visit. Who knew how well champagne and cake combine for a balanced lunchtime meal?

5. It certainly isn’t grim up North

One stat that NRB posted just before the show detailed how the restaurant and bar scenes in Liverpool, Manchester & Leeds are growing at rates more than double those of London. Accordingly, all aspects of hospitality will have to keep up with this rapid development and walking around the Manchester Central exhibition hall, it was evident and enlightening to see that this is really happening.

From the booming craft beer quarter that showed off how much beer is lovingly being brewed in the North, to the big names in attendance, all the way to the grand stands from thriving global and local businesses looking to make waves in Manchester and beyond, NRB 18 has proven that the old adage “it’s grim up North” couldn’t be more wrong.

With beginnings in Manchester’s Barton Arcade, to our current Stockport home, Stephensons have now been supporters of the Northern hospitality industry for 150 years. After launching our new catalogue at NRB 18 and seeing how much interest and activity there was, we can honestly say that we’ve never been more excited for the future of the hospitality industry in the North.