Casual Dining returned to the Business Design Centre in Islington on 22nd-23rd February to present the new products, solutions, insights, and innovations.

The multi-award winning event enjoyed its fourth year of significant growth, raising the bar yet again to attract 4785 visitors, with over £736m annual spending power, to its 200 exhibitors. Notably, nearly one in three visitors are responsible for a corporate spend of over £500,000.

Demonstrating their growing appetite for casual dining, senior executives from all the UK’s biggest restaurant, pub and bar groups, plus thousands of independent operators, hotels, wholesalers, distributors, attractions, and contract caterers, visited this industry showcase.

The strong footfall has been backed by glowing testimonials.

“We don’t have to fly across the Atlantic to find the latest industry innovations under one roof any more – Casual Dining has brought all that and more to the UK," says Karen Forrester, CEO of TGI Friday’s UK.

“Casual Dining is always a fantastic opportunity to discover something new,” says Garry Duncan, operations director at Nando’s.  “It’s become the meeting place for our industry.”

“Brilliant show again, with the most innovation I have seen at any of the shows this year,” says Tim Foster, co-founder of the Yummy Collection.

“I thoroughly enjoy visiting Casual Dining. It’s a must attend event!” says John Metcalf, commercial director at Strada.

Chris Brazier, group event director of Casual Dining, calls the support of the show "phenomenal".  Casual Dining 2017 was a record-breaker in every respect, he says: “The fact that we've just enjoyed our best ever show – with record numbers of buyers and, more importantly, a record quality of buyers – who battled travel strikes and Storm Doris to attend – is testament to this wonderful industry of conscientious decisionmakers, who simply wouldn't miss the two days a year that the casual dining sector gets together. Their support of the show, as always, has been phenomenal. Thank you to all our visitors, exhibitors, speakers, associations, and media partners.”

Over 75% of the exhibitors (another record) had rebooked for next year before the show closed.

Summing up their exhibitor experience, Sam Chote, head of sales at Karma Cola, says: “For a business still getting started, choosing the right show can be quite stressful. Casual Dining 2017 was clearly the best trade show we have done – we had so many great conversations.”

“We had a huge amount of interest for 2017. We have already signed up to exhibit in 2018 – well done to the Casual Dining team for another fantastic show,” says Terry Larkin, group general manager at JJ Food Service.

“Casual Dining is my favourite show of the year. It always delivers a good atmosphere and a high level of serious visitors looking for innovative ideas and quality products – the main reason why we’ve exhibited since the show’s inception,” says Robert Marciano, director of DiSotto Foods.

“Casual Dining was another fantastic show. It’s by far the best for us and the quality of footfall is exceptional,” says Kim Addison, marketing director at Vito UK.

“This is the second time that we have chosen to exhibit at Casual Dining and I have to say that each year gets better! The contacts and leads that we collected were absolutely outstanding and we have meetings booked as a result beyond all of our expectations. The Casual Dining show is now firmly in our diary as a 'must do' for next year,” says Kim Antoniou, founder of Kafoodle.

There were 18 keynotes and panel sessions covering all the key developments and challenges affecting the industry – from market trends and Brexit to menu innovation, profitability and brand expansion. Highlights included standing-room only sessions by leading industry operators – Karen Forrester, CEO of TGI Friday’s UK, Martin Robinson, non-executive chairman of CDG, Mark Fox, CEO of Bill’s Restaurants, Jo Fleet, MD of Wahaca, Andrew Gallagher, group marketing director at Côte Restaurants, Jeremy Roberts, CEO of Living Ventures, and David Pellow, VP of operations – Europe at Hard Rock International.

As in previous years, market updates were delivered by Simon Stenning (MCA), Graeme Loudon (CGA Strategy), Peter Backman (Horizons), and Kate Nicholls, CEO of the ALMR.

Designed to promote and celebrate new ideas in the marketplace, the prestigious Innovation Challenge Awards, attracted over 40 entries this year. Fourteen finalists (chosen by popular visitor vote on opening day) took turns to impress the judges in the live pitching session on 23rd February.
 
Those judges included: Chris Knights, group executive chef at Young’s & Geronimo Pubs; James Nye, MD of Anglian Country Inns; Martin Caws, group exec chef at Casual Dining Group; Alyson Scott, procurement & supply chain director at TGI Friday’s; and Alice Elwes, senior purchasing manager at Côte Restaurants.

Ascentia FSE’s F1 High Speed Oven, Double Dutch Drinks’s Pomegranate & Basil variant, and Karma Cola by Karma Cola Co were the winners of Gold awards this year. Europastry’s Crystal Beer Sourdough Burger Bun, Morgenrot’s Ceriux Rubia, and Surgital’s Amichetti Laboratorio Kids took home Silver. Bronze awards went to 3S POS – Hospitality EPOS (3S POS Online Food Ordering System), Bar Foods (Moroccan Lamb One-Pot), Beacon Foods (Juice-it), Island Oasis (Island Oasis Frozen Beverage Solution), Joe Delucci’s Gelato (Joe Delucci’s Mulberry Gelato), Kafoodle (Kafoodle’s Labelling), McCain Foodservice (McCain Signatures Staycrisp Fries), and New York Bakery (Croll).
 
Other winners at Casual Dining 2017 included Thistly Cross Cider’s Whisky Cask Cider and Freedom Brewery’s Organic Helles Lager, which were both crowned King of Craft 2017. In a first for the show, both received equal marks from the judges, who included selected VIP visitors.

“Casual Dining is an excellent opportunity for both NPD and networking – I would recommend it to anyone in the industry,” says Ryder Butler, head of procurement at Bill’s Restaurants.

Casual Dining will return to the Business Design Centre, in Islington, London, on 21st-22nd February 2018.