After a two-year hiatus, the National Restaurant Association Show returned with a bang last May. With more than 1,700 exhibitors and over 51,000 registrants, the energy inside Chicago’s McCormick Place was palpable. “Our 2022 Show was exceptionally successful for all. Everyone was extremely excited to get back to business in person,” said Caitlin Rodgers, marketing director of exhibitions for Winsight, the event’s organizer. “And we know our 2023 show will be even bigger and better. We’re thrilled that about 88 percent of the exhibitors signed up on-site for next year. We are also seeing many exhibitors who watched the excitement, crowds and engagement from afar and are making their return next May.”
A key goal for the 2022 event was ensuring that everyone felt comfortable jumping back into an in-person event following the peak of COVID-19. Health and safety are always top priorities for the Show but, as the industry continues to rebound from the pandemic, Rodgers looks forward to emphasizing a singular message during the 2023 event, which will take place May 20-23 at McCormick Place in Chicago. “The National Restaurant Association Show brings together more restaurant and hospitality buyers and equipment manufacturers than any other industry event; this is a show for foodservice,” she says. “That’s what we’re focusing on. It’s like what the Consumer Electronic Show is to the tech industry – we consider the National Restaurant Association Show to be the Show for foodservice.”
New and Renowned Initiatives
Rodgers understands that to truly be the show for foodservice means doing more than repeating past success. While renowned initiatives like the FABI Awards and Kitchen Innovation Awards will return in 2023, the show’s new additions aim to give registrants an even better experience. “One of the great things we’re expanding is called Startup Alley, which highlights companies that have been in foodservice for three years or less. We feature them in a pavilion area so that they can showcase their products, equipment and services. That might mean highlighting food equipment, point-of-sale systems, food and beverage products, or robotics. Whatever the case, it’s a great opportunity for newer companies in the industry to engage with attendees at the show.”
The Beverage Room is another new attraction that is sure to interest registrants. This pavilion will not only include top mixologists, but also goods and services such as beer, wine, spirits, bar specialty equipment, cocktail ingredients, mixers, garnishes, drinkware, and bar technology.
Rodgers says that there will be plenty of networking opportunities at the show, with a heightened focus on the industry’s up-and-coming professionals. “We recognize that many come to our show to build connections and, therefore, we make it a priority to help facilitate these connections by offering networking opportunities for both new and seasoned professionals. Our networking events are extremely popular; we sold out our young professionals party and industry night out events this year,” she says, noting that the expectation is the same for next year.
While the specifics are still being finalized, the 2023 Show will once again feature celebrated chefs conducting culinary and beverage demos as well as acclaimed speakers discussing the most essential foodservice topics. Rodgers says that calls for proposals recently closed and she was very encouraged by the response. “We want to provide an education program that is new, exciting and relevant. One speaker proposed a session about taxes and we thought that was really timely. We want to offer the need-to-know topics as they arise, so we’ve decided to hold a webinar in December on this topic so people can take advantage of that knowledge now.”
That kind of education has always been an integral part of the National Restaurant Association Show and 2023 is no exception, as targeted education sessions will remain a staple. “We know that people do not want to leave the show floor, so we are pleased to hold our education centers right there,” Rodgers says. “By holding education right on the show floor, we are giving those who may not have attended the sessions a chance to hear and learn about the most pressing topics in foodservice. There are education tracks that I think speak to everyone within the industry.”
According to Rodgers, attendees can expect to learn more about the following at next year’s show:
• Culinary Insights: “You can see the food and beverage trends that will impact operators’ product and equipment choices.”
• Operations Solutions: “With the labor issues we have, more and more operators are looking to equipment to figure out how they can do more with less.”
• Marketing Matters and Technology Strategies: “Marketing is key. It’s important to know how to use Google Maps, Yelp and similar tools. Not everyone has embraced technology and how it can work for them.”
• Trends in Adult Beverages: “We’ll answer questions like how do you get zero-proof drinks, and how do you make that a profit center for your business?”
• Workforce Recruitment: “This Is a big one for everybody right now. How do you bring in people who will strengthen your business?”
• Wellness: “Everybody likes working from home, but how do you keep that camaraderie and culture, so the business is still the focus?”
• Off Premise: “Ghost kitchens are here to stay.”
The show will have around 60 sessions, Rodgers says, which is intentionally a bit less than this past year. “With these sessions, our goal is to provide value and help professionals run strong, successful businesses. We don’t want to counterprogram our sessions and speakers against each other. Some of the feedback we received was that there was so much great information that people couldn’t get to it all. By focusing on the need-to-know topics we can offer an insightful education program and keep people where they want to be: right on the show floor.”
Reflecting on trends she expects to see on the floor, Rodgers zeroes in on three specific areas. “For equipment, I think we’re going to see machines that can cook multiple products or create multiple drinks without needing someone with a culinary degree to run them. The other thing is food lockers, which really took off during COVID. People just want to have that sense of safety and control. They like being able to put their code in, grab their food and get out the door. For food, everybody’s getting into plant-based (food). There’s plant-based meat, fish, and chicken. Not that burgers are going away, but more and more people want to have a more sustainable or vegetarian meal than they may have years ago.”
A Different Kind of Show
Registration for the 2023 National Restaurant Association Show is now open, with early bird rates that increase as the event gets closer. Regardless of when attendees register, Rodgers feels it’s vital to make a distinction between this show and one of the industry’s other major shows taking place in the first half of 2023.“We understand the value in events like the NAFEM Show. Attendees can engage with channel partners like your dealers, distributors, service agents, consultants, and some bigger customers. It’s a channel show to showcase what everyone’s been working on in the two years since the last NAFEM Show.
“Some people may think they don’t need to go to the National Restaurant Association Show because they’ve already gone to The NAFEM Show,” she continues. “As someone who formerly specialized in foodservice equipment, I recognize that both shows are important and serve different functions. They each have different audiences and both provide valuable business opportunities.
“The National Restaurant Association Show is a show for everyone in the industry – from restaurant owners and operators, retail foodservice professionals, food and ingredient suppliers, equipment manufacturers, and many more – we have something that will appeal to all foodservice professionals,” Rodgers says. “Everyone who touches foodservice should attend. This is where everything kicks off for the year: products are launched, brands are built, and business gets done. It is truly a show like no other within the industry.”