This is where all the cool new toys come out to play and the old ones sharpen. A yearly event at the Orange County Convention Center, this is where it all happens. When hospitality and culinary students start at Valencia Community College, University of Central, or Le Cordon Bleu, this event is their first foray into the actual world of hospitality. Professors encourage their students to go interact and mingle, taste different foods, look at different things feel, touch, smell, and above all get a good sense of what the industry is all about.
Over the years, this event has been a litmus test for the hospitality industry in Florida. This year there was enormous attention to the abundance of food samples and giveaways. Vendors were very quick to offer up their prize cuts of meat, fish, pizza, sauces, ice creams, yogurts, smoothies, and everything else. There was no shying away from passing out the swag either, complimentary wine openers, wine savers, paper holders, pens, and bags made their way around the convention floor. Larger companies like Cheney Bros had actual models handing out bags. There is nothing more attractive to get people over to your corner of the convention floor than a couple of good looking ladies in skin tight outfits handing out free gifts. Oh there was also the free beer, that created a long line.
A hot item these days is the ever present iPad. It seemed like there were more and more vendors getting into the Point of Sale business with iPad, iPod, and Squares. However, there were just a few vendors who had applications available for the Android market. Seems like Apple ruled here. But there was always a promise that the Android application was coming in a couple of months. In as much as the industry is leaning heavily on hand helds there is also the emerging “Cloud” feature. Many vendors were quick to point out the ease of installation with the Cloud system. Most systems are tailored to fit the end users need and not a bundle of unnecessary features. Great plus, it could be accessed from anywhere. Another smart item was the automatic hand washing station. It is a gizmo mounted on the wall with a drain. One would place hands in the opening and the machine would turn on, wash, and sanitize hands for 30 seconds. Remove hands and wipe dry. There is a bottle of hand cleaner/sanitizer already piped in with the plumbing. No more guesswork with timing and proper hand washing procedures, the Department of Professional Regulations will love this.
A surprising hot trend since the weather is cooling down, gelatos, smoothies, ice creams and frozen drinks. This was a dominating product segment. There were many brain freeze machines and mixers. It seemed like at every turn and corner there was another frozen machine vendor. Is this the next hot thing? Evidence in the explosion of frozen treat cafes around Orlando. A huge surprise was the blinged out food truck stashed all the way in the back. At $250,000 a pop fully decked out, cheaper than a restaurant but one might have to live in it. In as much as Orlando is late to the food truck culture, the Caribbean is the hottest market. The vendor explained that they can not keep up the production of these mobile restaurants. He said that their biggest orders are from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago. The food stand culture of the islands have graduated to a blinging out food truck.
Overall, as in the past years last day was normally very empty with most vendors gone and attendees dwindling. Not this year. The last day, Saturday, was a nightmare getting into the Convention Center parking lots. Inside the actual convention floor was packed. There was an abundance of energy and samples, most vendors were still there. This year seemed more like “here is my product, buy it” rather than last year it was more like “can I scan your badge and get your information”. It seems like it is easier to look up and find products, but touching, feeling, and physically seeing that product work still drives the hospitality business.