Anna currently serves as the Vice President of Marketing and Innovation for the Texas Restaurant Association.
In her role at the TRA, Anna will lead the evolution of the association’s sponsorship and marketing strategies, focusing on marketing membership, increased revenue, and partner products to improve member value. Additionally, Anna is driven to bring more restaurant technology to the state of Texas with unique partnerships and innovative programming.
Previously, Anna was Head of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Services at the National Restaurant Association. She served to connect restaurant operator members of the Association with new technology, operations and marketing concepts. This included directing the Association’s innovation outreach programs and building relationships with high tech, finance and payment companies, startups, venture capitalists, and curious restaurateurs. Her projects included the Restaurant Innovation Summit, Startup Alley, and the Silicon Valley Tech Tour.
Anna is a frequent speaker on innovation and disruption in the restaurant space, including tech trends, mobile payment, food delivery, tableside tablets, BOH inventory and staff management platforms, #foodtech startups, and online ordering and reservations.
Anna serves on the advisory board for SXSW Interactive and a few stealth tech startups. She has a master of arts in journalism from American University and a bachelor of arts in mass communication from Texas State University.
Anna is a native Texan and enjoys live music, restaurants (obviously), and seeing movies with her husband who understands the importance of getting to the theatre early.
What is the history and mission of the Texas Restaurant Association?
The Texas Restaurant Association (TRA) was formed in 1937 and has represented the restaurant industry for the past 80 years. During that time, the association has been indispensable voice for advancing the business interests of hospitality and foodservice industries in the state of Texas.
One of our primary focuses is to represent the restaurant industry’s interest against adverse legislation and to promote good legislation that will help restaurant operators. Not surprisingly, excessive taxation is the one issue that has been an ongoing concern.
A second focus is in helping our members build successful businesses. One way we accomplish that is through training. We have an education foundation called Texas ProStart, where we educate high school students about culinary and management careers in the restaurant industry.
We not only teach them how to cook, but also how to run a restaurant. From marketing, accounting, and personnel management, to training, we help potential industry employees understand to full scope of the business. TRA also work closely with hospitality schools around the state to help them stay up-to-date on developing trends.
We also provide a range of online services. Whether a member needs help starting a food truck or has HR issue, we have online resources to assist him. We offer webinars, articles, and community forums, where members can help each other with questions. The TRA has established a joint membership agreement with the National Restaurant Association, where our members receive the full benefits of both organizations.
How has the Texas Restaurant Association Marketplace evolved?
The Texas Restaurant Association Marketplace annual trade show started in 1963. It is the second largest foodservice trade show in the country; and, it has been our premier event for the Texas Restaurant Association throughout our history. The event, which started as just a trade show, has evolved over the years and now encompasses a conference and training program.
This year, the Texas Restaurant Association Marketplace is being held July 9-10 at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, Texas. We expect to have 5,500 to 6,000 attendees for the two-day event and more than 550 exhibitors. The exhibitors display a wide variety of products and services for the industry including: craft beverages, mixers, linens, POS technology, security, kitchen equipment, supplies, and loyalty programs. The marketplace also has a lot of interactive displays, modern technology platforms, and new food products.
What sessions are lined up in the TRA Marketplace this year?
Our programs will be presented in three different forums: the Education Ideas Center, TIPS (Technology, Innovation, Profits, Solution) Stage, and Cutting-Edge Stage.
In the Education Idea Center, we provide practical information that can be used to improve business performance. Gerry O’Brion, a keynote, marketing, and branding speaker, is going to discuss something that he calls “The Restaurant Formula,” which is how to keep a restaurant brand relevant. He has consulted with many big-brand restaurants on their branding strategy. Ti Adelaide Martin, from the Brennan family out of Louisiana in Houston, is going to address Women in Leadership.
The TIPS Stage is a forum where we explore emerging technologies in the restaurant industry. This year, we will be focusing specifically on social media, customer reviews, and mobile technology; and how it can be used to promote customer loyalty.
Our Cutting-Edge Stage will provide hands-on learning demonstrations for attendees who want to learn something new about how the restaurant industry deals with food.
One session will focus on chef sustainability within the kitchen. We will have a demonstration on pickling and fermentation, and a session teas and coffees.
Another important issue that will be addressed is food allergies and menu labeling. The association is trying to reach a consensus within the industry for labeling different food products that effect people with food allergies. Right now, the issue has been put on hold by the FDA; but it is important for restaurateurs to know what their options are in this area.
Do you have a keynote speaker for the event?
Gerry O’Brion will be our keynote speaker. He has been a marketing expert in the industry for years and worked with Coors Brewing Company, Quiznos, Red Robin, and Procter & Gamble.
He is going to be talking about how companies can use strategies to grow from a small, mom and pop, business to a billion-dollar brand. He will discuss his formula that helps companies track their ideal customers regardless of their budget. It should be of great interest for restaurant operators, as well as the exhibitors.
Who are the exhibitors that you have lined for this year?
Sysco Foods, a long-time partner of ours, will be exhibiting again this year. Also, Heartland Payment Processing will be there, both as an exhibitor and a presenter, to help attendees learn more payment processing, security and payroll.
The Coca-Cola Company, another of our partners, will be there. They are showcasing, not just their main products, but will also be in the craft beverage pavilion. That pavilion provides visitors samples of new craft beverages, not just beer, wine, and spirits, but the new sparkling sodas. Coca-Cola who will be showcasing their product called Blue Sky which is a line of sodas.
We also have many equipment manufacturers including Ace Mart Restaurant Supply. Dinova, Inc., the company will talk about attracting business clients to restaurants. We also have Main Street Hub, a social media marketing company based out of Austin, who can really help restaurateurs with their presence. Graham Trucks, Reliant Energy, Long Range Systems, ABC Pest and Lawn, the Syracuse Sausage Company, Honey Smoked Fish Company, and Yelp, Inc. will also be exhibiting.
There will be many different products to try and interesting technology to explore. Of course, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, who has the best cheese bread ever, will be right next to our favorite partner - ECOLAB.
Is there more international participation this year?
We have a Japanese company coming this year to talk about Sake and the foods of Japan. Sabor Latino is going to be a part of our show and we are also partnering with an Italian specialty food group that will be bringing some Italian flavors to the show.
How will an increase in minimum wage effect the industry?
Unfortunately, there has been too much lazy journalism addressing this topic recently because it is just so easy to just say that an increase in the minimum wage will hurt restaurants and drive them to use more robotics. But the issue is much more complex. It is difficult to sum up quickly, but I will say that restaurateurs want to do the best they can for their employees.
Of course, if the minimum wage rises restaurateurs are going to have find ways to improve efficiency so that they can stay in business without laying off employees. There are 1.273 million restaurant and food service jobs in Texas alone, that’s 10% of the state’s employment. We don’t want those people to become jobless. So, we have to find a way to keep them employed but, at the same time, keep our businesses open.
Automation and robotics are coming to restaurant business as exemplified by the installation of self-ordering kiosks. Also, we have seen the installation of smart kitchen equipment, like ovens and dishwashers, that streamline restaurant operations. Automating repetitive tasks will help free up humans give the best hospitality experience possible.
How many Texas restaurants are there and how many are members?
There are 43,670 restaurants in Texas and about 5,000 of those are TRA members. So, we have a lot of opportunity for growth and we definitely want to see our membership numbers increase.
What message do you want to convey to the potential attendees?
There is a lot that happens at this year’s TRA Marketplace beyond just the exhibition floor and conference program. On Saturday evening, July 8th, the day before the show opens, we have the Night of Excellence, where we honor and recognize true leadership and outstanding business practices. Also at the event we have what is called the Hall of Honor where we induct a few people every year who are most involved with the association. This creates the most impact for restaurateurs in the state.
On Sunday night, we host the Lone Star Bash. It is a celebration of all things restaurant in the State of Texas. And, it’s not just open to attendees or exhibitors, the public is invite as well, and everyone can try out excellent chef food and new craft beverages.
The TRA Marketplace is the place to come to learn about the restaurant industry in the State of Texas. We attract attendees and exhibitors, not just from within Texas, but from Louisiana, Arkansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Colorado. They come here, not only for a good trade show experience, but also for a great educational conference.
How are your exhibitors going to benefit this year?
The entrepreneurs that attend the event are looking for ways to improve their business. They know that TRA Marketplace is the one show where equipment manufacturers, food suppliers and other exhibitors have their latest products and services on display in one place.
We also have a number of very creative sponsorship and partner opportunities for exhibitors. To help our exhibitors achieve their marketing goals, we offer sponsorships to our three forum Stages, as well as our program app.