Casual Dining - the restaurant, pub and bar event of the year - was making headlines last week, with its biggest event yet securing another record turnout.
200 exhibitors, 31 Keynote speakers and 4,803 unique attendees - are the top line figures from the 2018 show, which bid farewell to its Business Design Centre venue in style over 21-22 February.
Known for being a magnet for top buyers from across the casual dining sector, visitors included thousands of senior executives from all the UK's biggest restaurant, pub and bar groups, plus the best independent operators, hotels, wholesalers, distributors, attractions, and contract caterers. Notably, nearly one in three visitors cited a corporate spend in excess of £1m (15% reported £10m-plus budgets).
wagamama, Jamie's Italian, JD Wetherspoon, Ei Group, Nando's, New World Trading Co, YO!, Loungers, Marston's, Greene King, and Living Ventures (winner of Casual Dining Group of the Year at the Casual Dining Restaurant & Pub Awards 2018) were just some of the big-name brands in attendance.
"Casual Dining is the only show on my must attend list," says Ian Neill, chairman of K10 Restaurants and Hush Hache Restaurants. "It is the only event that has total and relevant focus on the casual dining space and this year's show was a triumph. ExCeL can only take it to another level."
"Casual Dining is the definitive show in our sector and as always was a hub of new and innovative products. I look forward to seeing the show grow when it is in its new home in 2019," says Steve Packer, head of supply chain at Pizza Hut Restaurants.
"There's a reason I've been every year and will continue to do so...I love Casual Dining! Congratulations on making it the essential date in the calendar, looking forward to ExCeL!" says Brian Keeley-Whiting, MD of Whiting & Hammond.
Next stop ExCeL London
Eva Ellis, Casual Dining's event manager, calls the support of the show 'phenomenal'.
"We are absolutely delighted that the show has been such a success," says Ellis. "There was a fantastic buzz across the show floor from the moment doors open, and it was a very busy, valuable and productive two days for everyone involved. Casual Dining is the two days a year that multi-site restaurant, pub and bar operators get together, and the support from the industry this year, as always, has been phenomenal.
A big thank you must go to the whole industry for supporting the show right from the very beginning and helping to make Casual Dining the amazing show that it is today. We look forward to seeing it continue to get even bigger and better at its new home of ExCeL," she says.
With Casual Dining having already reached capacity at the BDC, the new, larger venue of ExCeL London will accommodate even more exhibitors, two Keynote theatres, and enable easier navigation for visitors around one busy show floor. Plus when the Elizabeth line opens later this year, ExCeL London will become even more accessible.
"The move to ExCeL has generated a lot of interest and enthusiasm from across the casual dining sector," says group event director Chris Brazier. "It's a testament to the show's continuing success, and demonstrates just how important Casual Dining has become to suppliers and buyers looking to do business here. It's their unmissable show.
"We've seen unparalleled demand for exhibition space, with a record onsite rebook and many exhibitors asking to take substantially bigger stands next year. It's all hugely encouraging for the future growth of this vibrant sector and, of course, Casual Dining itself - the only show targeted, focused and dedicated to serving it.
"Huge thanks, as always, must go to all our exhibitors, visitors, media and association partners, who we know are as excited about the move to our new home at ExCeL as we are," he says.
The record onsite rebook saw 76% of exhibitors confirm their participation at the next edition before doors had even closed.
Summing up their exhibiting experience, Nigel Phillips, country manager UK & Ireland at Lamb Weston, says: "Casual Dining 2018 was the best show yet. We met with top decision makers from pub and restaurant groups, as well as the best up and coming new operators - the chains of tomorrow. We look forward to exhibiting in its new home of ExCeL in 2019."
"Moving to ExCeL is the right move for the continued growth of the only show dedicated to this vibrant sector," agrees Andy Weir, head of marketing at Reynolds.
Other exhibitors to rebook for 2019 include Rational UK, Nestle Professional, Coca-Cola European Partners, Budweiser Budvar UK, Schweppes, McCain Foodservice, Quorn Foods, Comtrex, Kraft Heinz Foodservice, Panasonic, Moy Park Foodservice, Franklin & Sons, Tevalis, and Carlsberg UK.
"We've had a great time at Casual Dining and met a lot of fantastic customers," says Carlsberg UK's national account manager for casual dining, Matthew Kelly, "It's been very productive for us."
Alongside the show's bustling three-floor exhibition, the Casual Dining Keynote Theatre (sponsored by Yumpingo) was a hive of activity throughout. Powerful Keynotes - led by a stellar line-up of industry leaders, including James Spragg (Casual Dining Group), Jon Knight (Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group), Susan Chappell (Mitchells & Butlers), Zoe Bowley (PizzaExpress), Nick Collins (Loungers) and Mark Smith (Pho), addressed key business opportunities (and challenges) for casual dining operators.
MCA (Simon Stenning), CGA (Graeme Loudon and Jamie Campbell) and Peter Backman Foodservice delivered essential market updates and overviews of the latest trends to watch. While lively panel sessions featuring Yummy Pub Co, Whiting & Hammond, Glendola Leisure Group, the ALMR, Hubbox, Flat Iron, KuPP, Loungers, Las Iguanas, Young's, All Star Lanes, and Picturehouse Cinemas sparked plenty of insightful debate.
"It's great! When you come along to Casual Dining and you walk around and see the innovation and passion here, you do feel very proud and excited to work in the industry that we work in," says Susan Chappell, divisional director / exec co, Mitchells & Butlers.
Innovation Challenge Awards - the results
New innovations by Carlsberg UK, Crooked Beverage Co, Double Dutch Drinks, Heineken UK - Blade, and Yumpingo were awarded Gold in the show's prestigious Innovation Challenge Awards, which recognise the best casual dining products and solutions of the year.
Thirteen finalists (chosen by popular visitor vote from 50 entries this year) took turns to pitch their innovations to an expert panel of restaurant and pub buyers - including Alice Elwes (Côte Brasserie), Megan Lewis-Thomas (Casual Dining Group), Chris Knights (Young's & Geronimo Inns), Antony Bennett (Loungers), Glenn Evans (Las Iguanas), Simon Xavier (The Restaurant Group), and Keith Bird (former chief operating officer at GBK).
The results (announced on 22 February) saw five companies receive gold innovation awards, three were awarded silver and three collected bronze.
- Carlsberg UK: DraughtMaster
- Crooked Beverage Co.: Crooked Beverage Co Alcoholic Soda
- Double Dutch Drinks: Double Dutch Cucumber&Watermelon
- Heineken UK, Blade: Blade, 8 Litre Draught Beer System
- Yumpingo: Yumpingo's Intelligent Digital Bill
- Karma Cola Co: Sugar Free Karma Cola
- Nitro Cold Brew Coffee Co: Nitro Cold Brew Coffee
- Rational UK: ConnectedCooking 2.0
- Adia: Adia Hassle-free Hiring
- Joe Delucci's: Walnut & Dried Fig Gelato
- Kavli Food Solutions: Hot Cheese Board
- Krowd: Krowd - Borderless Dining
- The Tasty Meat Company: Hot Dawgs
Freedom Brewery was also celebrating - having retained its King of Craft crown at Casual Dining for a second year running. It took the top spot ahead of nine other Craft Beer & Cider Pavilion exhibitors with its Freedom Pils - Pilsner Lager.
Save the date for Casual Dining 2019
"There is only one show that is dedicated to our vibrant sector. I fully support Casual Dining and I fully support the exciting move to ExCeL for 2019," says long-time show supporter, speaker and visitor Karen Forrester, CEO of TGI Fridays.
Casual Dining will take place at the new venue of ExCeL London on 27-28 February 2019. For further information, please visit www.casualdiningshow.co.uk