Nation's Restaurant News asked some restaurant executives about their biggest takeaways from this year's National Restaurant Association Show, which took place in Chicago, May 18-21. Here's what they had to say.

Arby's SVP of operations Scott Boatwright: "The key takeaway for me was the sizable opportunities that our industry faces. From the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to rising commodity costs that can't be mitigated through pricing, it's getting harder and harder to drive profitable unit-level economics. We really must capitalize on all opportunities that come our way, like driving energy-efficiency programs that include behavior-based changes, as well as equipment that improves efficiency. We can leverage ACA to become an employer of choice and offer valuable benefits to employees. We must also utilize product innovation to drive profitable sales."


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Bruster’s Real Ice Cream CEO Jim Sahene: “Our sister company, Custom Concessions, builds food trucks and trailers, and we had a 36-foot White Castle truck on display that we just finished building for them as their first mobile truck. The number of mom-and-pops as well as significant brands getting information on food trucks was still very high. A 50-unit Burger King franchisee told us, ‘Mobile trucks are how I test my markets before I build brick-and-mortar,’ and it makes complete sense. In Bruster’s, we have a lot of franchisees who take trailers out to fairs and ballgames, and that’s how we’re getting people signed up for email lists.”

Buffalo Wings & Rings CEO Roger David: “With the craft beer craze going on, we’re taking a harder look at our beer lineup and the equipment on that front. I think people are becoming a lot more educated about beer in general, even the kind of vessel it should be served in. Consumer expectations around draft beer are really evolving rapidly, and the more we know about that, the more we can be positioned there, the better off we’ll be.”

The Cheesecake Factory VP of sales Tony Gressak: “It’s all about the networking, meeting the industry leaders who are here. People have been very open about what’s going on in terms of globalization…and advancements in technology. …The people who are here are engaged in finding solutions.”

Fish City Grill founder Bill Bayne: “After talking to and listening to many entrepreneurial operators, it is exciting and encouraging to see how resilient and optimistic these folks are.”

Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises VP, Wow Bao president Geoff Alexander: “To me, the show felt much busier than the past few years. Perhaps this was because of the new lottery system for booth placements, but I found this encouraging. I believe there were a lot of bright shiny objects on the floor to see. Some vendors completely overhauled their booths from years past…however, it is important that people not get caught up by what is pleasing to the eye, focus on what is best for your brand.”

Moe’s Southwest Grill president Paul Damico: “From being on the Undercover Boss discussion panel to walking the floor to identify new products and trends to meeting leaders from other brands, I think the most important thing I learned is that there is never enough learning to be done when it comes to leading your brand.”

Publik Draft House founder Eddie Johnson: “It’s funny. Every time we come from Atlanta [to Chicago] for the show, I actually meet more people from Atlanta than I do when I’m back home because I’m always at work in the restaurant. Making more contacts and getting exposure to new ideas is really what’s most important. You always learn ideas from new concepts and technologies.”

Qdoba Mexican Grill director of strategic product development Ted Stoner: "I saw a huge amount of technology and educational resources to help make more nutritious meals."