National Restaurant Association Trend Update 2022
We attended the National Restaurant Associations Tradeshow in May. It was great to be back in person to collaborate and connect with so many people at this year’s show. With so much pent-up demand to be back at a live event, the show floor was particularly social and was a wonderful opportunity to have conversations with exhibitors. It was a huge show, taking the entire McCormick Center, but the opportunity to talk to so many exhibitors one-on-one made it feel small and personal.
Restaurant Trends This Year
The starkest change from the last show in 2019 was the prevalence of technology. At that time, delivery services pushing online ordering were a small portion of the show. This year, technology ran the gamut from delivery platforms trying to sign up new operators, to new POS systems that improved website integration and data collection. Operators were bombarded with technology. One of the halls felt more like the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) than the National Restaurant Association
Maturation of the technology has made it easier for Operators to implement and gain value from adding these platforms. Restaurant tech has gone from and add-on to a fully integrated part of the operation. Many systems have created data-centered processes to shape the entire operation of the restaurant to gain a feed of data from every moment of the consumer’s dining experience. The industry is still in the early phases of utilizing the data that these systems create. Over time, integrating this data into marketing, loyalty, and customer experience will allow even small operators to tailor their experiences for each customer.
Plant Based Ingredients
Like National Products Expo West, plant based food was a trend. At the retail show, everything was labeled plant based (even potato chips), but in the restaurant space, it took the form of meat and dairy alternatives. Plant based chicken nuggets, fish, and hamburgers were on full display. The plant based chicken nuggets felt new, and the technology seemed ready to deliver on the chicken experience. Beef has been there for years, and fish felt like it was still trying to dial in the technology (read work in progress). Daiya was also there with great plant based dairy alternatives to enhance any vegan menu item.
Restaurant owners have kept plant based meals definitions relatively simple, as meat and dairy alternatives, which helps their consumers quickly understand what they are ordering on the menu. On the menu, many of these items are not accompanied by lengthy descriptions, so they must speak for themselves. Consistent, intuitive definitions of plant based at restaurants has helped the trend grow quickly and be asked for by consumers.
Restaurant Labor Reduction
This year’s show had substantially less extravagant menu suggestions for ingredients and included more value-added options to reduce labor/cost. Manufacturers have increased their focus on ways to reduce the amount of labor needed to prepare their products. This has led to innovations such as easy-to-fold wrappers and pre-made sauces and frozen components. Value-added items have always existed, but they used to be marketed to Operators with untrained staff or lacked the time to prepare ingredients. Now, value added item are being marketed to all operators.
At today’s cost of labor, these value-added offerings are relatively cheaper to operators because they can’t find, or can’t afford, additional staff to make them from scratch. There was a consistent message to let the skilled staff work on the creative aspects of the menu, and leave the chopping/simple tasks to the food manufacturer to save labor hours.
This is just a small segment of the many exciting trends taking place in the food service industry. Menu trends like “global,” “customization,” and special diet (keto, gluten free, etc) remain a consistent part of the show, but they no longer feel as trendy as they did in 2019. As consumers return to dining at restaurants in droves, we expect to see new flavor trends pop up quickly as they look for new and exciting flavor experiences. It is an exciting time in food service, and we look forward to watching this segment closely this year.