Operations

Here’s what RB editors expect to see on the National Restaurant Show floor

Hours before the 2024 edition of the Show officially opens, industry journalists peered inside their crystal balls to offer their predictions for what trends will dominate.
National Restaurant Association Show
Crowds enter the 2023 National Restaurant Association Show. | Photo: Jonathan Maze

We asked some of the Restaurant Business editors to share what trends they expect to see and what things they are looking forward to at the National Restaurant Association Show this year. 

Here's what they had to say:

A swing back to real meat?

Past shows have been where many operators literally got their first taste of the plant-forward phenomenon. Are we going to see signs on the exhibit floor this year of a swing back to hearty true meats? After all, light-fare specialists like Sweetgreen and Noodles & Co. are finding steak to be a powerful customer draw. Pizza Hut is adding a burger. If the show again proves a barometer of where consumer tastes and operators preferences are heading, we may be sampling more actual meat products than analogs intended to replace them. — Editor-at-Large Peter Romeo

Protein, protein, protein + fiber, fiber, fiber

Whether, as Peter suggests, we might see more meat-based meats rather than “meats” of the plant-based variety, I suspect what we will see are loads more products boasting their protein content, closely followed by those trumpeting their fiber offerings. Consumers seeking to boost both of these key nutrients are all over social media, sharing their latest finds. So, I bet we will see a growing number of food producers capitalizing on this expanding interest and awareness. Just be careful sampling all of those fiber-packed foods (and drinks!) on the Show floor or you might need to make a hasty exit. —Managing Editor Heather Lalley

Dynamic pricing

My bet for the biggest trend to emerge from this year’s event is dynamic pricing. It has been a hot button issue since Wendy’s mentioned it on an earnings call in March and was quickly condemned. But I still think restaurants are curious about it, and justifiably so, given all the attention on menu prices right now. I would expect more than a few vendors to be pitching some version of dynamic pricing on the Show floor. Just don’t call it surge pricing. —Senior Editor Joe Guszkowski

Drink up

Beverages—with and without alcohol—have long been a big part of the Show, but I expect to see more innovation with liquid refreshment than ever before. Concepts like McDonald’s CosMc’s and the dirty soda-centric Swig have upped the ante in the beverage game, and restaurant operators will be thirsty for ideas. There will be coffee, of course, lemonades, fruit-flavored tea, juices, matcha and all manner of boosters, boba and bubbles. And don’t forget: ice matters. —Executive Editor Lisa Jennings

Sustainable innovations

Sustainability always has a place at the restaurant show, whether that be through an array of plant-based fare on the show floor  and sustainable packaging companies touting their inventions or even oil filtration companies and of course food waste solutions. This year, attendees should expect sustainability to be a hot topic, with as many plant-based options as years before, but perhaps attendees should expect to see more vegetables as center of the plate, as opposed to meat analogues. Don’t fret, there will still be an abundance of plant-based analogues but expect other plant-forward ingredients to pop up as well. Think lots of mushrooms, jackfruit and more. — Associate Editor Reyna Estrada

Chef, mixologist demos

The chef and mixology demos are my favorite part of the Restaurant Show. I always learn a new technique or hear about a restaurant or operator I’d like to follow up with for a future story. There are several pros I haven’t seen before doing demos on stage this year in The Culinary Experience and The Beverage Room, including Christina Ha, Greg Wade and Karen Akunowicz. And Tony Abou-Ganim is a legend in the world of bartending. Best of all, they usually give out samples and you get to sit down for the demos! — Senior Editor Pat Cobe

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