Operations

Plotting a National Restaurant Show game plan

Expect to see robots, plant-based everything, AI designed to ease labor costs and ideas to boost efficiency and increase traffic.
LG robot National Restaurant Association Show
LG Business Solutions' CLOi Servebot will make an appearance at the Show./Photo courtesy of LG Business Solutions USA.

It’s time to lace up the Hokas.

The National Restaurant Association Show is set to get underway on Saturday with 11 football fields worth of exhibit space and more than 2,100 manufacturers and suppliers showcasing their wares, including everything from plant-based caviar made of seaweed pearls to cutlets made from mushroom root.

Of those exhibitors, more than 800 will be first timers—a 61% increase of those making their show debut compared with 2022—so there will be plenty of new things to see, taste and ask questions about.

Those who have attended the Show before know two things:

  1. Wear comfortable shoes. You will get your steps in.
  2. It’s best to have a plan of attack. Exhibitors in the Lakeside area are a good 10 to 15 minute walk from the North and South Hall, unless you’re walking behind a human-crowd-plow type who can clear a path. You know who you are and we are grateful.

Here are a few themes that will be apparent on the show floor with some teasers on what to look for.

There will be robots.

Technology has crept into just about every aspect of restaurant and hotel operations, so there will be no shortage of opportunities to see and discuss the latest product offerings from vendors across the tech world. Automation that eases labor costs is expected to be particularly popular.

The Tech Pavillion is in the North Hall and Startup Alley, featuring younger, emerging companies (not only tech), is in the South Hall, but expect to see tech options pretty much throughout the show.

DTG is launching a new mobile self-powered workstation that enables mobile cold beverage service for stadiums and other venues, for example. Paytronix has some new research about how online ordering now represents 25% to 30% of all orders, up from 10% in 2019.

LG Business Solutions USA is showing off the new LG CLOi ServeBot robot and they also have a new kiosk. BrewLogix has a new keg management software. Powerhouse Dynamics will be talking about IoT and how its Open Kitchen platform connects equipment. And Cargill has a new technology called Reskued that uses AI and predictive analytics to identify “at-risk inventory” early in its shelf life, when it’s more valuable to upcyclers to prevent that food from ending up in a landfill.

There’s also a Kitchen Innovations showroom in the South Hall, where 20 winners of this year’s Kitchen Innovation Awards will be celebrated. Winners will also appear on a panel on Saturday at 4:15 pm.

Beyond Meat Smashable Burger

Beyond Meat's new Smashable Burger cooks in 3 minutes./Photo courtesy of Beyond Meat.

A parade of plants.

Last year, the crowds were abuzz about the plant-based sunny-side-up “egg” (Yo Foods Inc. now has a poached egg version) and the multitude of vegan products in the style of muscle meats. Expect to be able to taste many more plant-based products, from cheeses to seafood.

Beyond Meat is launching a new Smashable Burger as a 2.5-ounce patty that cooks in 3 minutes. Impossible Foods has a fully-cooked patty that just needs reheating. Chunk Foods has a new whole-cut product that looks like a chunk of beef but is made from cultured soy and wheat. The plant-based caviar-style seaweed pearls, called Caviart, are at the Season Brand booth.

Check out some of the FABI Award winners, including Meati, which is making cutlets out of mushroom root, Current Foods' plant-based tuna filet, Before the Butcher’s pepperoni and both Alchemeat and Beyond Meat have steak products. And Miyoko has a pourable mozzarella made from cashew milk.

And along the lines of saving the planet, famed chef Thomas Keller will be talking about The French Laundry and Per Se upcycle ingredients. Keller will appear at The Supplant Company booth, which will be showcasing its new multi-purpose baking base made with sugars from fiber, which allows for products with less sugar without compromising taste or texture.

Better Earth

Better Earth is among the many packaging vendors touting more sustainable products./Photo courtesy of Better Earth.

Packaging it up.

With regulations likely to restrict how restaurants package their to-go menus coming around the country, packaging will once again be a common theme on the show floor, from compostable straws (under certain conditions, anyway) to more planet-friendly alternatives to plastic and reusable serviceware.

Better Earth has a new all-natural container that’s compostable, PFAS-free and oil- and grease-resistant. Ask WinCup about their new Phade paper products lined with a biopolymer made from canola oil that’s compostable.

Expanding your palate.

The Show is one of the greatest opportunities to taste new products and flavors from around the world without a plane ticket. Among the chef all-stars offering demonstrations is Zoe Adjonyoh, founder of Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen (Monday, 2 p.m.), for example.

Also Culinary Cannabis Pioneer owner Miguel Trinidad will share the connection between cooking and cannabis. The Sioux Chef founder and CEO Sean Sherman (co-owner of Owamni in Minneapolis) is cooking on Monday at noon. And Los Angeles-based restaurateur Nancy Silverton (Pizzeria Mozza, Chi Spacca and more) will demonstrate on Sunday at 4 p.m. (ask her about her new plant-based-cheese partner New Culture).

Feed your mind.

Don’t forget the keynotes. Union Square Hospitality Group founder Danny Meyer will be joined onstage by Pinky Cole, the owner and CEO of Slutty Vegan, with the National Restaurant Association’s Michelle Korsmo asmoderator in the Grand Ballroom on Sunday at 2 p.m.

And on Monday at 1 p.m., sister brand Technomic principals Joe Pawlak and Donna Hood Crecca will be joined by White Castle CMO Lynn Blashford, Boka Restaurant Group Co-Founder Kevin Boehm and Restaurant Business editor at large and director of digital content Peter Romeo to discuss what’s next for the restaurant industry.

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