I recently sat down with Niko Papademetriou, a 10-year restaurant industry veteran and 5-time repeat attendee at FSTEC, to learn some tips and tricks for navigating the FSTEC trade show floor. Hailed as the leading conference where premier restaurants and the hottest technology converge, FSTEC is undeniably one of the top industry trade shows for tech and restaurant execs.
Here are some helpful tips he shared with me that can help operators to get the most out of the event this year.
Q: Why do you look forward to attending FSTEC?
I enjoy FSTEC because there’s really no other industry event as laser focused on restaurant technology for large chains. It’s a great opportunity to network with peers, catch up on the latest industry trends, and get in front of many leading companies in the space. It’s one of the very few industry meeting places for restaurateurs and technologists—and so a show I never miss.
I'm particularly excited to learn from our peers and see what other folks in market are doing, specifically regarding the latest innovations.
Q: What are three simple things operators can do to get the most out of FSTEC?
FSTEC is super manageable. It's big enough that nearly all of the key players are there, but still affords plenty of opportunities for intimate interactions. If I had to pick 3 things that operators could do, I would have to say:1. Do your homework and research the vendors, presenters, and attendees you want to meet.
I suggest that operators do some homework before coming to the show. Spend time evaluating core areas of interest and researching the top vendors, software companies, and hardware companies will set you up for success. Even though it’s manageable, without some prep and pre-work it’s easy to work the floor, have a great show, but still miss someone you really wanted to talk to. Use the App to help prioritize and better manage those meetings!2. Reach out before the show to schedule time with the people you want to talk to.
This simple thing can be a big win for operators and vendors alike. Getting a little bit of private time in the booth with a key vendor between the “open floor sessions,” even if only for 10-20 minutes, can radically change their perception of the company or offering. I’m always open for a chat, and welcome the opportunity when executives reach out to talk.
Some operators shy away from doing this because they aren’t sure what the days are going to look like and want to play it loose. But, after years of attending the show as both an operator and now as a vendor, I can assure you that getting time with the right people can be highly impactful for your business.
Every operator will be given priority by the vendors that are there. Setting up a bit of time in advance just means vendors have that much more of an opportunity to put the right people in front of you to best use your time.3. Network with other operators & share challenges and opportunities
Look, we're in the same boat as you. We're a technology company, competing with a bunch of other technology companies. You're an operator competing with a bunch of other operators. Competition shouldn’t prevent you from sharing learnings and insight, it just means you will get that much more in return! Qu has always been a proponent of sharing information. Sharing is caring after all.
Use the opportunity to chat with other restaurant executives and validate that they're having similar challenges to you, and if not, understand why you're doing better. Or maybe they're doing better at something that you're having challenges with and this will open up an opportunity for you to ask them how they're doing it better. People in the restaurant industry are willing to share. It is a small community. I think that people and brands who leverage this approach, are always better off in the long run.
Don’t fear copy-cats, instead go there to learn, and get the most out of it.
The truth is, if you're doing something that somebody else hasn't even thought of yet, you're light years ahead of where they are, anyway. They're not going to be able to copy what you're doing in three days or 3 months…they're already 18 months behind you! Just don’t give away your trade secrets, and you’ll be fine.
Q: What advice do you have for operators attending FSTEC for the second year around?
Restaurant technology is getting better and is more robust than ever; there are also more options than ever before for operators to choose from. Every year at FSTEC, new technology entrants showcase their latest solutions. This year, I would be on the lookout for tech companies that are building products and services to help integrate with the third-party marketplace and solve the labor challenges facing restaurants. Qu is certainly one of those vendors.
I would also recommend operators catch up on hyped-up tech that came out last year and see if it’s still around this year. If it’s gotten a lot of traction, it may be an interesting choice, or maybe it didn’t catch on at all! It’s all part of the fun. Our industry is so rapidly evolving that events like FSTEC can really help keep operators on top of their game.
Q: What is a big industry trend should operators be on the lookout for at FSTEC?
The past 18 months have been highly disruptive for our industry, I really empathize with operators. The plight of the modern operator is real—with third-party marketplaces and the proliferation of delivery products and services constantly shaking things up.. The latest disruption this year is actually going to be driven from a force outside of tech. And this is really all about what’s happening around labor regulation in the US.
With labor wages in the United States rising on a year to year basis, the people have spoken in many markets, certainly urban areas. A $15 minimum wage is a reality for many states with most others on the same path.
For operators who run on notoriously thin margins, they need technology to better navigate that changing labor landscape. Nobody wants to let go of half of their staff; nobody wants to bring down the quality of the product and the service that they put in front of their guests. If anything, they want to double down on that, but they need to do it in ways that make fiscal sense for their business and their go-to-market strategy. I've probably seen 50 different companies pop up in the past 12 to 18 months in just those two areas of the restaurant technology ecosystem, so it is certainly something to look out for.
Q: Why should attendees come to the Qu Booth at FSTEC?
At Qu, we take these shows extremely seriously. We bring a huge team because we want to engage everyone that we can and learn about what's important to them. It's extremely important to us to continue to build our product into something relevant today and nimble to adapt to tomorrow. Staying hyper-focused on operators’ needs is an integral part of delivering value-laden solutions. We do a good job of bringing the right material together, demonstrating high-quality products, and most importantly, bringing cool swag to give away!
This year, we’re going to illustrate what we're talking about, and that’s a new horizon of unified food experiences. We’re not waving around our hands and using a laser pointer on a slide deck, we’re getting granular to show real solutions in action and how operators can regain control of their data and guest experience. And if none of that is relevant to you, if nothing else, there is a sweet giveaway that everyone can take advantage of. Stop by for freebies and wicked swag. It’ll be a smart move.