11 Nov HX: The Hotel Experience Recap
You can understand my curiosity over the re-branding of this trade show after the many decades it has been around. Almost fifteen years ago I was representing AHLA’s Lodging Magazine at IHMRS, wearing my Lodging signature red nehru jacket on the show floor. Under the original name, the International Hotel, Motel & Restaurant Show covered a lot of bases pretty well. In recent years the trade show has been much smaller than when it was king. Whether it was diminished by the recession or other factors, it was time for a reboot.
It has to be said that there was a clear and professional effort to improve the experience for exhibitors and attendees as HX, the Hotel Experience. The choice to collaborate with the Boutique Design show, which was fairly equal in size to HX, was most certainly a draw for attendees, and still talked about on Tuesday when BD had closed and HX was still open.
You will notice some significant differences at HX. For me, because of course I’m on the F&B side, the first change that I wondered about was removing the word “restaurant” from the name of the show. I found three beverage companies. Sparkling Ice showed as an in-room amenity, Glengarry bourbon was a seminar speaker, and Twinings tea had a new foodservice tea box (which is actually quite lovely). I saw no food companies at all. The sub-heading “rooms to restaurants” was added to HX, but unless you were looking for kitchen equipment or furniture, well it’s just not a restaurant show anymore.
It was great to see the equipment vendors. I get excited seeing the gadgetry and machinery, imagining how exactly each piece of shiny gear would help improve operations, efficiency, or solve a specific problem. Some of this year’s equipment innovations are quite impressive. For instance, Meiko demonstrated a dishwasher that traps steam and recondenses it for more efficient water use and a cooler kitchen.
Monday did host an afternoon Culinary Arts Exhibition, demonstrating six techniques and displaying several award-winning cake designs and horsd’oeuvres. Here you see a first place ribbon for “The Raven” cake which had special charm for me, growing up in Charm City.
The educational sessions took place over the three days in four topical theater areas on the show floor. Every session I observed had plenty of people listening to the presentation, watching the demo, or interacting with the panel. For me, sessions on the floor compete with too many easy distractions. But the A/V crew here did a good job of focusing the sound system so it didn’t step on nearby exhibitor conversations, while still being audible to the seated attendees.
I walked the whole floor on the HX side, but of course you expect me to be most interested in beverage products, and I’ll tell you that this premium tea box is quite attractive. If you know any tea-lovers, smelling the loose tea is an enjoyable part of the decision-making. It’s kind of like eyeballing the dessert tray. This tea box includes vials of the loose tea for sniffing, and also two framed hourglass timer sets with sands coordinated to the type of tea selected, for measuring the right steeping time. As we know, water temperature is a whole different issue, but here it’s the thought that counts, and tea for pleasure is a matter of taste regardless.
I jumped around quite a bit in the foodservice areas and was drawn to Vito, a company who makes an unsexy product that has special meaning to the hot oil burn I got working in a restaurant back in 1991 when someone else was cleaning the fryer. Felix deftly showed two devices. First was a filter that drops in the hot oil and pulls out lots of junk without having to wait for cooling, or draining the whole fryer. Second was a wand that you stick in the oil that tells you whether it’s good to use or needs to be replaced. I talk about food consistency all the time, and it’s not a very sexy topic, but GOOD fried food is good. “Maybe good” or “maybe bad” fried food is no one’s friend. These two products would help anyone keep clean oil for the right amount of time and ensure those fried bar foods come out tasting yummy every single time.
I’ve been to a couple restaurants recently that are using tablets on the table, meaning customers order themselves, add a dessert, signal the server, or do other things. If you’re not ready to take the plunge into full tablet ordering, the folks at Syscall have adapted some manufacturing plant signaling technology for busy foodservice. Looking like an Apple watch, a signal can be sent from the kitchen, the bar, or the customer table (or any combo) letting the server, runner, or whomever know that stuff is ready, and where it’s being routed. If you don’t want drinks to get watered down at the service station while ice melts, food to cook under heat lamps, or customers to give up waiting to order another drink, this is one unobtrusive option that can smooth out some of those efficiency glitches.
Intellectual property is a frequent topic in my house. So, the story Sculpture Hospitality told me about BevIntel…well, you can guess why they’re not called BevIntel anymore. I didn’t know how big this company was before, but I got a demo of their inventory management product. The highlight here was about inventory of bottle contents when the bottle is opaque. The models demonstrating the product were well-trained and extremely professional.
There were some more familiar faces too. The folks at JetRock flooring are from Maryland, but I’ve run into them at three trade shows now far from home. We had a laugh because I can recite almost as much information about their flooring replacement product as they can. I frequently spot broken ceramic tile floors in kitchens and behind counters, and it makes me think of this product every single time.
I had one of those artful moments walking past a booth by distributor McGrinder Associates, where something catches your eye and you just need to look closer. You may be more familiar with the brand 10 Strawberry Street which has some nice tabletop and drinkware pieces. I stopped because of the way these forms made me feel, and then got more excited when I looked more closely. You may have been to any number of bars or restaurants and ordered a nice cheese plate or charcuterie selection that came out on a plank or a piece of slate. I don’t know about you, but I always wonder if those things can go in the dishwasher, if they’re sealed, or if they grabbed them from some building supply company somewhere. I like those natural forms accenting the food, but try not to think too much about how well the kitchen follows their sanitation procedures with such rough materials. This hit my buttons in the right way. The particular designer for this collection of dishware is Izabel Lam. They had rich textures of slate and wood but were porcelain, light, and clearly would survive the dishwasher. One plate looked like a tree slice with all the rings showing, another ramekin was as though it were a chiseled branch. Just lovely stuff, and easy to see how plating on dishes like these would feel much more upscale and worth a few more dollars than on plain whites.
As the show was winding down very quickly at 2:30p Tuesday I had one last fun conversation with Julia at Ice-O-Matic. Some people think ice is just as unsexy as filtering hot oil, but the little velvet back of acrylic ice jewels would suggest otherwise. I asked about ice delivered remotely by tube, dispensers that empty ice into carts to be wheeled off to various waiting bins, top venting chillers that only Ice-O-Matic makes, and of course the shapes and sizes of ice. The jewel for cocktail ice here was called the Grande Cube, not too melty, plenty of surface. Julia may have been reading my mind because she answered my question about maintenance and cleaning just as I opened my mouth. We listed cities around the country with the best and worst water for making crystal clear ice.
Walking around HX, I heard many negotiations on price, delivery, quantity, timing, etc., so clearly there was real business going on. I’m very happy for the exhibitors whose “hotel experience” meant lots of sales. There were companies exhibiting for the first time, and ones that have been exhibiting at IHMRS for years. Asked if they made money, the answer was clearly yes. Asked if they intended to come back next year, it was, “Yes…probably.” So the ice is a little cloudy on the future of HX, at least on the foodservice side. Exhibitors did a good amount of business, but do they feel it’s the right show anymore for F&B people, it’s not as certain.
HX really did make a strong effort to deliver a very professional environment for hoteliers to do business. Obviously my bias is for the food and beverage side of hotels. And I look forward to seeing how this show adjusts to its new branding over the years ahead.