All that jazz! Concessionaires head to the Big Easy for NAC Convention


New Orleans is famous for its food and its people. At this year’s convention staged by the National Association of Concessionaires (NAC), delegates will have plenty of chances to experience Southern hospitality. On the menu will be a trade show, panels, and trips outside the convention hall for venue tours. Attendees will dine at Emeril Lagasse’s restaurant Nola and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and tour the in-theatre dining venue the Theatres at Canal Place during the August 6-9 gathering.

For the NAC, which has had an uptick in members in recent years, the convention will also be about bringing together its diversifying membership. Once dominated by movie theatre venues, the organization is trying to attract members who operate concessions for convention centers, stadiums, zoos and theme parks. For members representing traditional cinemas, that diversification can be a good thing. When it comes to movie theatres, “it’s not concessions anymore, it’s concessions and hospitality, with more upscale, white-tablecloth kind of service. To that extent, it’s moving way beyond popcorn and candy,” offers Dan Borschke, NAC’s executive director.

Jeff Scudillo, incoming president of the NAC, agrees that the association’s increasingly diverse membership benefits the movie exhibition community. “As theatres are getting more involved in not just typical concessions but food and beverage, as well as alcohol, they can tap into that knowledge base of many diversified concessionaires who have been doing this for years, whether it’s information about the designing of stands, working with manufacturers and the vendors that provide food and beverage for non-traditional concessions, or just overall promotion and marketing of these new pieces to their patrons.”

Over the past two years, NAC membership has grown over 15 percent, estimates Scudillo, with most of the growth coming from non-theatre members. Terry Conlon, the recipient of this year’s Mickey Warner Award, has been key to this outreach. Conlon, who runs the concessions for the University of Illinois, has been “a huge proponent in getting the diversified concessionaires involved in NAC and opening their eyes to the value that NAC provides, both in education and leadership throughout the concessions industry.”

Besides focusing on growing membership among those operating different venues, the NAC closely watches legislation affecting concessionaires. This past year saw New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “soda ban” struck down by a judge, but the NAC continues to monitor the status of that legislation, according to Scudillo, who is also VP of special markets for Promotion In Motion. There are also government initiatives regarding labeling, whether it’s the packaging itself or on the menu, that the NAC has seen crop up. To explain these ongoing issues to members, the programming this year will include a Government Relations Panel Discussion.

The exchange of ideas will continue when Anita Watts, FJI’s “Snack Corner” columnist, facilitates the discussion “30 Great Ideas in 75 Minutes: How to Expand Your Menu Successfully.” Among the panelists will be Denise DeZutter from AMC Entertainment and Jon Muscalo from the hospitality company Legends, which handles such facilities as Yankee Stadium, Cowboy Stadium, and the contract for the One World Observatory atop the new World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. Breakout sessions later in the week will give venues a chance to share and offer solutions to one another’s challenges. When not attending sessions, members can explore the trade show. In only the second year that NAC has hosted a trade show solo, they sold out all 95 booths, with plans to add several more.

Concessionaires are used to satisfying their guests’ appetites during their nights out, but during the convention delegates will get to play the part of the customer. The programming will include dinners out and social activities, including an opportunity to let loose on Bourbon Street on the final evening. “Aside from being an educational association, we’re a social association, and you get a lot of one-on-one time with competitors in a very relaxed and open atmosphere,” Scudillo enthuses. “People take a lot back with them from these interactions. It’s very relaxed and conducive for conversation.” While larger conventions like CinemaCon have so much on the schedule that they can feel hectic and “fragmented,” NAC’s small size is its biggest asset. “Here, all the members attend all the different functions,” Scudillo notes, allowing him to spend time with his customers individually. “It’s a strong mechanism for conversation and relationship-building.”

The social activities at the convention will also be a good time to apply the lessons of the keynote speaker, Tommy Spaulding, author of It's Not Just Who You Know: Transform Your Life (and Your Organization) by Turning Colleagues and Contacts into Lasting, Genuine Relationships. His book encourages networking that builds on the principles of Dale Carnegie’s seminal business advice book How to Win Friends and Influence People. During a dinner at Emeril’s restaurant Nola, NAC’s 2k run/walk, or while packaging snack kits for the U.S. troops, attendees will have opportunities to make and nurture those connections, until everyone meets again next year in Denver, Colorado.