Restaurant Show celebrates a century of progress

Photograph courtesy of the National Restaurant Association

You don’t need to be a historian to know how much the restaurant industry has evolved in the century since the National Restaurant Association® was born.

Formed in 1919 by restaurateurs in Kansas City, Mo., the organization initially represented some 43,000 restaurants nationally. Even the term “restaurants” was still not in widespread use, although it was slowly taking hold over descriptions such as “eating house,” “restorator,” or “victualizing house.” National restaurant chains were not yet a thing, either. For most Americans, dining out was reserved for travel or special occasions.

By 1927, the Association had moved its headquarters to Chicago. It relocated to Washington D.C. in 1979, better positioning the group to share the industry’s concerns with lawmakers.


In the decades after 1919, restaurant dining grew ever more popular. Before World War II, restaurants served 20 million meals a day; after the war, that figure doubled. In 1950, about 25% of meals were consumed outside the home; by 1990, fueled by a rise in single-parent households and working mothers, that had grown to 46%. As of 2016, Americans were spending more on restaurants than on groceries.

As Americans gravitated toward restaurants more often, the number and variety of eating and drinking places exploded, both keeping up with and driving new demand. Today, according to the National Restaurant Association, those 43,000 restaurants of 1919 have mushroomed into more than one million restaurant locations in the United States. Total industry sales last year reached $825 billion. Foodservice establishments employ more than 15 million people, about 10% of the overall workforce.

Accordingly, the Association’s annual Restaurant Show has evolved over the last century to reflect the size and strength of the industry. This year, it will welcome approximately 65,000 attendees and some 2,300 exhibitors showcasing products that their 1919 predecessors probably could not fathom, from plant-based proteins and labor-saving ingredients to equipment and powerful technology solutions.

The Association will mark the occasion at this year’s Show in a number of ways, including a daily birthday party with desserts and an oversized prop birthday cake destined to inspire social media shares. The 100th Anniversary Evening Celebration event at TAO, where this year’s Star of the Bar will be crowned, promises to be the social highlight of the Show.

“It’s fun to look back, but this Show is all about looking forward,” says Marc Lapides, vice president of marketing, communications and programming for the Show. “We are really focusing on growing people’s business for the next 100 years.”

The educational program offers two special sessions especially designed to accomplish that.

At Sunday’s Signature ’19, “The Future of Dining,” Association President and CEO Dawn Sweeney will lead a panel discussion with CEOs from critical industry segments, including fullservice and quick-service restaurants, grocery and convenience stores. They’ll look at where, when, what and how consumers will dine in the coming years.

And on Monday, SuperSession: The Future of Restaurants will bring together four experts to show how consumer-facing and back-of-house innovations are allowing restaurants to be more immersed in technology to ease operations and improve efficiencies, while also modernizing to win over guests.

This post is sponsored by The National Restaurant Association®