National Restaurant Association 2024: Post-Show Recap

The National Restaurant Associations’ annual show is the largest foodservice conference in the Western hemisphere. Over 35,000 operators, distributors, and dealers from the commercial chain, commercial independent, non-commercial, retail and lodging foodservice sectors attend every year to discover the latest innovations in food and beverage, equipment, supplies and more.

The show is hosted every year at the McCormick Place convention center (the largest convention center in North America) in Chicago, Illinois. This is a fitting location. As one of America’s great food cities, Chicago boasts a robust Michelin Guide that will take you to renowned restaurants like Alinea, Avec, Bavette’s and more, while making some of the very best pizza (deep dish or thin crust, depending on who you ask), and of course, introducing the world to the eponymous Chicago Dog found on almost every corner in the city.

The following are a few of the takeaways from the 2024 National Restaurant Show.

National Restaurant Association Trends for 2024

There is always something new to discover – dining trends are always changing, of course, and things that once reigned supreme for consumers and producers alike tend to make way for the new and exciting.

Here are a few trends that stood out the most.

Automation and Robots

food automation and robots

Automation isn’t necessarily new. The ability and ingenuity of automation and robotics, however, is reaching new highs every day.

NCCO has been making moves into the automation space to serve kitchens more efficiently – the DateCodeGenie®, for example, was on full display to show how automated labeling can save time, boost productivity, and support staff in the front and back of the restaurant.

But automation for labeling is one thing. Fully-automated robots designed to replace human food runners, servers, and chefs is another; the idea of robots taking the place of human beings to not only deliver your food but also prepare it for you is becoming more prevalent to the point where it can’t be ignored.

Robo-Cook, for example, will prepare and cook you a burger and fries from scratch without any human intervention

And food delivery services are moving toward automation as well; it might not be too far in the future that your delivery order is brought to you by something more closely resembling R2D2 than a teenager working a summer job.

While the chances are low robots will replace human servers and cooks in restaurants entirely, the use of automation, and robotic help, clearly isn’t going anywhere.

Tamper-evident labels ensure your order is safe and sound, whether it’s delivered by a human or robot

Energy Drinks & More

A convention as large as the National Restaurant Show means you have to cover a lot of ground if you want to take it all in. Thankfully, it isn’t hard to find an energy-boosting beverage to keep you going.

  • Energy drinks – C4 Energy, Celsius, Red Bull and more were on hand offering not only straight cups and cans of their product, but turning them into creative cocktails, alcoholic or N/A.
  • Soda companies – Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper and other classic soda pop producers maintained a large presence with self-pour kiosks, new flavor samples, and collaborations with other food companies for an eat-and-drink experience.
  • Coffee, Coffee Coffee – Nothing has replaced a warm cup of joe as the king of caffeine. From stalwarts like Folgers to small, artisanal startups, with cream and sugar or black, there were plenty of places to get your fill throughout the day.

An interesting facet of this as well is that many of these drinks aren’t meant just for keeping you awake, getting you through the workday or helping young gamers push through the night. Many of these are marketed as dietary supplements, helping with workouts, and giving a more natural boost to your day no matter your goals.

C4 Energy, for example, describes themselves as “the leader in mental and performance energy, built for the outperformers and overachievers working tirelessly to unleash their potential.”

This is also a part of the growing non-alcoholic beverage trend, offering something other than wine, beer, and spirits to sip in social situations. While alcohol is still a $300 billion industry, the N/A beverage trend has been taking a larger bite (drink) of this industry every year and is certainly one to watch.

Plant-Based Meat, Fish, and Cheese

Options for vegetarians and vegans have existed for years. The prevalence, and sophistication, of these animal product alternatives is on the rise, and companies like Impossible and Beyond Meat have found incredible success as traditional meat replacement.

This has shown that plant-based foods not only have staying power, , but there is room for growth, and several new companies are getting into the game

And not only for burgers and hot dogs. Almost every conventional animal product has now found a vegan replacement, especially in the cheese and dairy department. Soy, nut, and oat milks have already found their place in coffee shops and grocery stores, but the plant-based dairy companies like Daiya, Chao, and Violife are offering everything from ice cream to plant-based pizza that might fool even the most skeptical of consumers.

Plant-based seafood is having a moment as well. Sushi and tuna tartare, made with ingredients like nori and other ocean plants to evoke a similar flavor and mouthfeel, were also available for sampling at the show, and are slowly finding their way onto menus across the country.

This addresses not only dietary concerns, but also sustainability concerns – an increasing number of consumers are turning toward plant-based food alternatives to lower their carbon footprint and address Climate Change.

Learn more about sustainability and foodservice >

Browse out the catalog of sustainable kitchen solutions >

The Food

There were, of course, plenty more than just plant-based foods to sample.

A convention dedicated to restaurants should have a wide selection of foods to sample. The National Restaurant Show did not disappoint: Everything from caviar to grilled cheese sandwiches, mid-rare steak to matzo balls, and all the plant-based items mentioned above from a thousand stalls offering a thousand tastes of their finest products.

The National Restaurant Association offers a pedestal for America’s incredible bounty – wild rice and maple syrup from Minnesota, some of the world’s finest cheese from Wisconsin, giardiniera and tomato sauce from Illinois and so much more all together under one roof.

The show gives both burgeoning and well-established food companies a chance to stand out – and stand out they must. Food producers are therefore committed as much to showing off their ingenuity as their flavors, offering that one bite that will stick in your mind long after it’s gone.

This wide variety of foods and flavors, the vast array of culinary traditions reminds how diverse our country truly is. Too is it a stark reminder of the universality of food in general. Food brings people from every corner of the world together to share and eat at the table. The National Restaurant Association Show is as much a representation of global cuisine, mouths shaped by different languages and flavors alike, justifying the term melting pot so often used to describe the United States.

It also reminds how important restaurants are. We all need to eat, after all. But more than that, it’s something we do together, with friends and family and loved ones, before prom, after weddings and funerals, in the morning before rushing off to work or school, getting promoted at a business lunch or relaxing at happy hour. Restaurants are a cornerstone of culture and community.

NCCO at the Show

datecodegenie restaurant food labeling system  from NCCO at national restaurant show 2024

NCCO has long been a proud member of the National Restaurant Association, scrambling every year to set up the perfect booth and offer reliable, high-quality foodservice solutions to help kitchens of all types continue feeding the world.

We are dedicated to supporting kitchens of all types, embracing new innovations while maintaining the standards that have allowed us to continue our mission for nearly 120 years.

We can’t wait to see what next year brings.