Reflections from the National Restaurant Association Show 2024

It is no secret that the National Restaurant Association Show is the place to be if you are in the foodservice industry. LGC took to the floor of the show this past weekend, May 18-21, joining thousands of professionals in looking to the future of the hospitality industry.  

While we are primarily there to network amongst potential clientele, as lifelong industry learners, when we are not in the booth, we are observing what is new in the field. The Show is a timely chance to discover how trends are playing out 5 months into the year. We noticed that there are 4 central themes that informed our most significant observations: convenience, sustainability, advancement, and compliance.  

From booth design to technological advancements, we walked away with 5 key reflections.

Booths Must Capture Attention Amidst Oversaturation 

More than 35,000 people walk the McCormick’s Place floors over the 4-days of the Show. With over 2200 booths to visit and 12 educational sessions to attend, as an exhibitor, you must capture the attention of passersbys especially if you are not a household name. There are 3 ways we noticed that companies do this effectively: 

  • Customize Their Experience: Adding a customizable feature, putting your name on a Heinz ketchup bottle for example, makes attendees feel like they are a part of the brand. Additionally, having interactive elements such as the touch screen features gives individuals a hand in the results of their own consumption habits. 
  • Give Customers a First Look at New Products: An event that happens once a year is the best time to get people excited about products that are coming soon. What is more, soft launching items get real time data of how people react to those products.  
  • Bring Your Booth to Life: Static booths where nothing is happening do not make people want to stop. Allowing attendees to see your product in action and having multimedia elements where they can see even if far away is a sure way to bring in a crowd. 

Gen Z is Driving Hospitality Industry Strategies and Trends 

Lindsay Lyons from Coca-Cola and Robert Byrne from Technomic gave a presentation at the 2023 Show about the Gen-Z Effect in food service. A year later, Gen Z is still being discussed in how businesses are adjusting their strategies to appeal to the differences between Gen Z and Millennials. 

Where Millennials are drawn to minimalism, presenters at the Show emphasized the power of maximalism when it comes to Gen Z. As this generation is the first to grow up completely online, expression and aesthetic matter. Bright colors, bold flavor and interior design choices may be in the works in marketing for this generation who is looking for a break in the noise. We might begin to see businesses take more risks in their menus and technology to embrace this key element of the upcoming generation.  

Alternative Food Options are on the Rise 

On the topic of Gen Z, they have also led the charge towards plant-based alternatives becoming available in restaurants. With 79% of Gen Z being somewhat of a “flexitarian” (the combination of animal and plant-based products), a surge of plant-based menu options has emerged in the past years.  

At the Show, we stopped by the ABBOT’S booth to try the Whole Burger made of umami mushrooms, parsley, paprika, oats, chia seeds, and flaxseeds. This 100% plant-based patty presents the rise of completely meat-free alternatives that are increasingly making appearances in the industry. 

Another area where Gen Z is changing the market is the availability of non-alcoholic options. As told in the Beverage Room, 40% of Gen Z who can legally drink have never consumed alcohol. With the increasing population who recognizes the value of non-alcoholic alternatives, restaurants that serve alcohol will start implementing these options into their menus, if they have not already.  

Sustainability Remains a Top Priority 

The uptick in companies committed to sustainability was heavily evident this year. Take Tractor Beverage for example. Their Organic Impact Tracker shows consumers the difference they are making by using their product. Another company, Corn Next aims to revolutionize the future of drinking straws by using a cornstarch alternative to eliminate the need for single-use plastic.  

Aside from product sustainability, packaging is another sector where sustainability is taking the cake. Moving towards carbon neutrality and net zero is a trend we will continue to see in the next 5 years, and it is fascinating to see the creative ways these businesses are implementing sustainability into their brand strategy.  

AI and Robotics are Revolutionizing the Hospitality Industry 

AI is taking over the world, so why wouldn’t it make its way into our restaurants? Will drive-throughs make the switch to automated voice assistants taking orders? Will robots run our kitchens and make deliveries? The answer tilts into the “yes” category after this weekend.  

The Show was a prime time for Aniai to unveil demonstrations using the newest addition to their robotic kitchen, the Alpha Cloud AI-Powered Software, with color recognition capability. As technology and AI are continually improving, we eagerly await what new innovations will appear next year.  

LGC loves attending the National Restaurant Association Show every year as exhibitors to connect with people we can help with our staffing solutions. We also love getting to be alongside thousands of other hospitality professionals in a space to celebrate innovation and creativity. After a successful show, we look forward to returning next year for more! 

See more of our experience at the 2024 National Restaurant Association Show on our socials!

Instagram icon     Facebook icon    Linkedin Icon   TikTok App Icon Logo PNG Vector (SVG) Free Download

Keep up with other industry news!

cover image for abilene and lgc staffing partnership    cover image showing the national restaurant association's logo and the details for the national restaurant show 2024    Cover image for the Department of Labor's Final Rule on Overtime Salary Thresholds

About LGC

Since 2003 LGC has been building connections between businesses with staffing needs and job seekers looking for new opportunities. Our range of solutions includes temporary and permanent placements (and everything in between) for a variety of industries. With offices located nationwide, we can tap into a dynamic pool of talented professionals. We have a passion for creating partnerships that last and work hard every day to ensure both clients and candidates reach their employment goals.