Chicago Study Tour


Chicago Study Tour


Recently one of our directors, Sally Whelan, visited Chicago on an organised tour to experience some of the city's most exciting restaurant and bar concepts. Here's a short summary of her visit and some thoughts on the places she visited.

What an amazing trip to Chicago, I was lucky enough to be part of a study tour organized by the by the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) and Propel Info. I was one of forty industry professionals from some of the UK's most exciting hospitality businesses.

We were on a fact finding mission and all wanted a glimpse of the on trend concepts emerging stateside.

The trip involved study tours, of both dry and wet led operators. The foodservice insights firm Technomic guided us round some; let's just say interesting, ideas!

The itinerary ensured non-stop eating and drinking around some of Chicago's new, exciting bars and restaurants. My last visit to Chicago and the NRA Show (National Restaurant Association) was over 14 years ago when I went to research retail food concepts like Trader Joe's and Wholefoods; so I was expecting good things.

Findings and observations:

Whilst I loved Lyfe Kitchen, Eataly and The Publican Quality Meats- I wasn't bowled over as perhaps I might have been back in the 90's & 00's when it really was a country for inspiration and exciting new ideas. It made me appreciate just how far here in the UK our food and drink have come on.

What the Americans do still do well is the service, which no matter what the product, was always delivered with energy and enthusiasm; Blaze Pizza was a fine example of this.

The technology was fun to hear about and experience, with table trackers and easy to use online ordering and reservation apps all very much part of the success for the fast service casual dining sector.

I sat in on a presentation given by the Whole Grains Council on how the use of wholegrains will gain in popularity as consumers realise the benefits and operators learn how to prepare and market them as part of a healthy menu. So perhaps this is something to look out for in future menus. Customers are becoming increasingly more health orientated and there is an interest in traditional dishes with a healthy twist.

The challenges of gluten free and the opportunities this brings to introduce lesser known (and often underrated) grains such as amaranth, sorghum, and teff, was also a popular subject. With the new allergen laws coming into effect soon, it is also a relevant topic over here.

Brusselkale, was an interesting discovery and is set to become the hip vegetable. It is a hybrid of the much loved brussel sprout and Russian red kale- certainly something to look out for!

Other products that were popular in Chicago included; artisan breads, cheeses, craft beers and sodas and iced teas.

In conclusion, I had a great visit and I returned rather more full than I arrived! I no longer think that we are lagging behind America in terms of concepts and culinary ingenuity and actually have a renewed appreciation of what we do over here. I do think that there are trends we could benefit from picking up on though, especially more healthy eating concepts and gluten-free options.

Back to Blog