Trade Show Industry Vets to Launch American Restaurant Food Service Expo

July 20, 2020

Marc Lapides hopes that when in-person trade shows come back strong, he’ll be forced out of business. It’s an interesting mindset, but one that serves him well mid-pandemic in 2020: Serving a community in the way they need now, even though it may not be sustainable long-term.

That’s why the experienced trade show marketer—along with Chad Chappell, most recently a national sales director with The Expo Group, and one other industry colleague (yet to be publicly announced)—have come together to launch the American Restaurant & Food Service Virtual Expo.

Set to take place online March 21-22 next spring, the expo is a “realistic option for 2021,” says Lapides. He doesn’t want to call the show a competitor to the National Restaurant Association Show, which is currently scheduled to take place in Chicago May 22-25, 2021. In fact, Lapides spent several years overseeing marketing, communications and programming for the NRA Show, from 2017-2019. That’s a big reason he’s leading the charge for this new virtual show.

“I care a lot about the restaurant industry,” he says. “I know that suppliers want to get new leads and new business—that hasn’t changed. I also know that restaurant owners, despite their financial situation, still want to hear about new products and get education on ways they can recover.”

However, restaurant professionals may not have travel to shows in their budgets this year, or next year. That’s why he wants to provide this digital alternative, which will allow verified restaurant teams to attend free of charge (no “lookie-loos” allowed, he says).

Another benefit of doing American Restaurant & Food Service Virtual Expo online is that they’ll be able to pull speakers from anywhere, as they’ll only need to commit 2-3 hours to a virtual presentation rather than 2-3 days’ time to attend an in-person show. “I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s better than in-person, but I think what makes up for [not being face-to-face] is the quality and quantity we’ll be able to deliver,” Lapides says.

Attendees will be able to virtually walk through “aisles,” turn left or right to “meet” with exhibitors for one-on-one chats and collect digital materials from virtual booths. (The technology platform through which all of this will occur will be announced in the coming months.) Lapides says he thinks this model will help to shorten sales cycles, because you won’t have to wait a few days for attendees to get back to their offices and go through cards and materials to reach back out. “I like to think that it can be different, but a similar level of good [to in-person shows],” he says.

Exhibitor booths for the virtual expo cost $2,500. That is about equal to what it would cost a single person to travel from L.A. to New York and stay in a hotel for a few nights, without taking into account any other show expenses. Lapides hopes they’ll see teams able to reallocate budgets to take advantage of this high-value opportunity.

For those who scoff at a restaurant show taking place virtually—without any of the tangible delicious smells, samples and sensations of live cooking demos and interactive products that make this kind of show so great—Lapides admits they’re not wrong. He’s simply looking to provide an alternative for right now. 

“I don’t think the opportunity [for in-person restaurant shows] will exist in 2021—at least for the first half of the year,” he says. “Would it be better if everyone did it in person? Absolutely.”

But for the moment, a virtual show is looking like a much better alternative than nothing at all. As of mid-July, they’d already sold one of three lead sponsorships, and exhibitor interest is high. “We have until March to do this,” says Lapides, “but it’s nice to have some things in the bag right out of the gate.”

To learn more about the American Restaurant Food Service Expo, go here.

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