This past Tuesday had me wandering around Toronto’s Direct Energy Centre, press pass around my neck, exploring the exhibits at the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservice Association’s annual show.

Oh my goodness—the food! The technology! The entrepreneurial energy! The tequila! (Well, OK, not technically tequila. It was a two-year old anejo sotol from Hacienda de Chihuahua.)

As my bag grew steadily heavier with product specs and brochures, so my stomach grew steadily fuller with free samples. 

This was my first restaurant trade show, so I went in with an open mind, fully expecting to be overwhelmed and inspired. I hadn’t banked on also being a little tipsy, but, well, experiential journalism is the wave of the future, isn’t it?

So there was a lot to see—and, after getting my bearings, I saw most of it, making the circuit several times, gelato/hot dog/perogies/beer in hand. (I highly recommend the intensely hoppy, pineapply Hawaiian-style pale ale from Spearhead Brewery, by the way.)

There were the standard displays from equipment vendors—everything from ovens to dishwashers to smokers to portable barbecue pits (boy, the smell around that exhibit was pretty mouth-watering).

There were POS software providers, payroll providers, and insurance providers. There was hot sauce, bubble tea, and a veritable ocean of juices. Lawyers, accountants, and musicians.

Lots of stuff to see—and a few things I didn’t see:

  • Prices coming down on high-efficiency appliances. All the big guys were there: Hobart, Rational, Alto-Shaam, and others—and I still get the impression that an Energy Star-qualified product still costs significantly more than a conventional model. Most chefs that I talk to say that price is still the biggest barrier to purchasing energy-efficient equipment, and it doesn’t sound like things are getting any better.
  • Energy management software for restaurants. There’s lots of software for restaurants out there, but it mostly supports POS, staffing, and inventory. And although I did chat with one company that provided (among other things) online monitoring for refrigeration systems, most of the software providers I spoke to gave me a blank look when I asked about energy management. 
  • Emphasis on energy conservation and waste reduction. Restaurant owners are a bottom-line-focused bunch—understandable, given razor-thin profit margins and rising costs. I saw surprisingly little forward thinking about waste reduction—food waste, energy, or otherwise—and if it was there, it certainly didn’t stand out in the sea of shiny new products. Given the high cost of new equipment, waste reduction in other areas should be an area of particular interest to budget-minded operators and entrepreneurs alike.
  • Workshops that addressed energy or green issues. Lots of stuff on social media, mobile marketing, and menu trends; nothing on saving energy costs or running a greener restaurant. Again, given that energy expenditures take up a good chunk of operating costs, this should probably be a topic with a greater profile.


Now, admittedly, I approach restaurant operations from a niche perspective. But given that restaurants/foodservice is one of the most energy-intensive commercial industries out there, energy should be a far bigger part of the dialogue when it comes to overall cost management—and a good place to start that conversation is somewhere where people are looking for and open to new ideas.

Looking forward to CRFA 2013!

Image credits: CRFA