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CHICAGO The National Restaurant Association, Hotel-Motel show was held at McCormick Place from May 16 to 19. Its co-located, spirits-industry trade show, held from May 17 to 19, was given a new name this year. Formerly called the International Wine, Spirits, and Beer event (or I.W.S.B.), the show is now called “Beverage Alcohol for Restaurants,” which has the fitting acronym of B.A.R.
“Rebranding [the event] had been an idea kicked around internally for a couple of years,” said Leana Salamah, the show's senior director of convention marketing, communications, and programming. “It didn't seem the name or the acronym 'I.W.S.B.' resonated with attendees. It was descriptive, but it didn't stick in people's minds.” In 2014, the show moved from the convention center's Grand ballroom to its Lakeside ballroom, which has tall windows and lake views. The transition “really breathed new life into the whole two days,” Salamah said. “We knew from the buzz and the traction coming off of the new location that we had a great opportunity to rebrand the event with a renewed energy.” The new name caught on quickly with show attendees, Salamah said, “and to walk around and hear people refer to 'B.A.R.' rather than 'the wine pavilion,' or 'the alcohol room,' which is what we would hear in previous years, was just fantastic.”
Along with a new name, the show had an expanded advisory committee this year. Formerly composed of only bar and restaurants operators, the new committee included suppliers and distributors as well. There was also an added opening keynote session with Sally Smith, C.E.O. of Buffalo Wings, and the “Star of the Bar” mixology competition hit the road for the first time in the months leading up the event, making stops in cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Las Vegas to select regional qualifiers.
Registration this year was up 12 percent over 2014, bringing the total number of registrars to 5,000; part of the increased interest could be chalked up to the rising relevance of bar programs to the restaurant industry as a whole. “We've always paid a lot of attention to food and drink pairings, and that's still an important concept,” Salamah said. “But right now, the craft beers, the spirits, and the cocktails being made from them, are crafted with culinary sensibilities to be enjoyed with a food pairing, or as a stand-alone culinary experience. Restaurants, being the original purveyors of great culinary experiences, are in a unique position to deliver on this concept.”