by Lacey Griebeler, Chef Magazine

This article is the Party Planner online exclusive for the June 2009 issue of
Chef Magazine.

By now, you've recovered from walking the tradeshow floor at the 2009 National Restaurant Association (NRA) Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show in Chicago, May 16 to 19. But if your desk looks anything like mine, you're probably still wading through all the handouts and notes you gathered. Luckily, there have been roundups (including one by Chef's editors) on this year's food and beverage trends. While it might not be as exciting (or controversial) as the latest in F&B, let's not forget all those displayed products that just might help augment your bottom line. After all, that's a major reason for attending the NRA Show in the first place.

One of those product topics is tools for your in-house special events and banquets, which are definitely excellent means of increasing your weekly business. While plenty of the items in your restaurant can serve double duty for your catered parties, there are many other great products from the NRA Show that can take your events to the next level--without a huge investment.

Here is closer look at some tabletop and banquet products that could help you improve the look and feel of your in-house catered events coming up in the second half of the year. And be sure to tell us about the unique party wares you spotted at the NRA Show in the comments section at the end of the post.

Front of the House showcased space-conscious buffet displays for every serving need--from easy-storing L-shaped glass Arctic risers (perfect for a 20" round Arctic collection plate) to stackable brushed-metal cylindrical risers to riser-trivets (pictured) that can be folded flat for easy storage. Visit

While consumers wanted bright colors at their special events last year, this year's trend is more "refined luxury" in neutral tones, according to Garnier-Thiebaut. The company's new Luxury Table Linens Collection delivers just that: 100 percent cotton linens with romantic, earthy tones as well as fine-finishing details and mitered corners. Visit

Speaking of getting back to earth tones, Art de Cuisine by Churchill now offers its Igneous Stoneware collection. The new rustic dishes are safe for the microwave, oven, freezer and dishwasher. Extend the natural look with Art de Cuisine's Acacia wooden trays (pictured on the left). Visit

Kenilworth will officially launch B.Concept serving platters next month, but the company previewed the new collection at the NRA Show. Designed to be adaptable to any buffet setting, the 17-piece set can be arranged in a variety of shapes. The platters are microwave-, salamander- and dishwasher-safe. Visit

Gourmet Display's three-tiered stand for its Prestige Porcelain collection can be outfitted with a wide array of E.Z Clip interchangeable side accessories, including (clockwise, from top left) ID tag holder, porcelain signage, Lily three-bowl (7 ounces each) attachment and Canon 24-ounce bowl attachment. Visit

Looking for a whimsical (but stable) way to serve an amuse-bouche? Seltmann USA triangular-base, five-pronged Prop Forks will make sure those bites stay put until your customers are ready for them. Visit

Make a dramatic statement on your buffet displays with Steelite's Canyon chafer from the Brand Design Source collection. Fabricated from high-quality aluminum and finished with a powder coating, this rectangular chafer (28 by 20 by 10 inches) will hold a standard hotel pan and is easy to clean. Round size also available. Visit

Sico offers a solution for restaurants that need more table space during a catered event but need to be able to easily store the table when the party is over. The new two-tier collapsible catering table has strength, stability and mobility. In two easy steps, the top tier folds down, and the whole table folds vertically. Visit

Calling all creative and cost-conscious cooks! Regal Springs Tilapia, the world's largest producer of the mild-tasting, popular fish, is searching for the best family-friendly tilapia meal for no more than $15. Six finalists will receive cash prizes. The grand prize winner receives $5,000 and may appear on the company's Web site and promotional materials. The contest runs from now until Aug. 1.

Anyone in the 50 contiguous United States and District of Columbia who is over 18 and enjoys cooking fish can enter the contest. Recipes must be original and meals must include a tilapia entrée, salad and vegetable or fruit to feed a family of four for no more than $15. The judges may consist of professional chefs, restaurateurs and managers in the foodservice industry. Winners will be notified by e-mail and announced on the website by Sept. 1. Judges will base their decisions on the following criteria: creativity, ingredients, thoroughness of instructions, and other such criteria as may be determined by Regal Springs Tilapia. For complete contest requirements, official rules and to enter the contest, visit

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) launched a new campaign--called the National Restaurant Association Conserve/EPA Energy Star Challenge--and is encouraging the nation's nearly 1 million restaurants, their 13 million employees, as well as their suppliers and guests to reduce energy and water use in establishments. Nearly 500 attendees signed up during the NRA Show in May to take the Conserve/EPA Energy Star Challenge. More information on how to participate is also available at

"Restaurants represent an important opportunity to reduce energy consumption across the nation since the average restaurant uses 2.5 times more energy per square foot than other commercial buildings," Anna Stark, program manager for Energy Star Commercial Markets, said in a press release. "Energy and water efficiency will improve a restaurant's bottom line, as well as help protect and preserve the environment for future generations."

Jerry Lawson, National Manager of the Energy Star Small Business & Congregations Network, said in a statement, "Restaurant profit margins are typically only 3 to 9 percent of total revenue. Controlling costs such as energy and water can make a big difference in a small business' profitability. Restaurants that follow the Conserve/EPA Energy Star Challenge and invest in energy efficiency could realize a 30 percent return on these investments over time."

By reducing their use of energy and water, restaurants save on utility costs. The association provides a free and easy checklist of energy- and water-saving tips to get Conserve/EPA Energy Star Challenge participants started. The checklist includes steps such as turning off lights and equipment when not in use, serving water upon request, and motivating employees to reinforce conservation efforts.

Another step encourages restaurant operators to benchmark their current energy and water consumption. By benchmarking, or measuring usage, operators can identify opportunities for savings, validate their efforts, and set goals for future reductions. One tool participants can utilize is EPA's free Energy Star Portfolio Manager, which allows users to set and measure energy- and water-reduction targets.

NRA research shows that environmentally sustainable practices are increasingly important to today’s consumers. Forty-four percent say they are likely to make a restaurant choice based on a restaurant’s efforts to conserve energy and water, and six out of 10 say they are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers food that was grown in an organic or environmentally friendly way.