Trends and Takeaways from the 2022 National Restaurant Association Show


After an incredibly tough few years for restaurants, the National Restaurant Association Show brought together those in the industry to showcase trends and innovation, while fostering community and connection. The event took place May 21-24 in Chicago and brought in thousands of attendees. Despite the challenges that restaurants continue to face – like supply chain issues, inflation, and shortages – the overall energy of the show was upbeat and hopeful. The restaurant industry isn’t for the faint of heart, and those a part of it continue to show resilience and adaptability. 

In order for owners, operators, vendors, and chefs to stay afloat in this constantly changing environment, they must continue to innovate and pivot. This year at the National Restaurant Association Show, a few major themes of the show included sustainable and innovative food packaging, plant-based food, robots and automation, and smaller restaurants. Data, of course, continues to be a key focus point as well. 

Trends at the National Restaurant Association Show

During the pandemic, ordering food online for delivery and pick-up kept restaurants afloat. With this increased demand, which continues to stay relevant, the need for sustainable and innovative food packaging rose. The awareness around the negative environmental impacts of styrofoam and single-use plastic continues to grow, and there is now a demand from both consumers and restaurateurs for more sustainable materials in this space. Many packaging options displayed at the show were biodegradable, compostable, or reusable.

In terms of innovation, sturdier packaging is needed so food and beverage items can survive the delivery trip without spilling. For example, Georgia Pacific developed a countertop beverage sealer that is designed to better protect cups full of liquid from potential leaks during delivery and takeout. 

Over the past few years, the vegan and plant-based space have exploded, and the continued rise of these dietary preferences were reflected at the show.  This was the biggest food trend at the show, and meat analogs made from ingredients like mycoprotein, legumes, and soy. New Wave showed off its shrimp made from seaweed and mung bean, while Wagyu shared samples of its plant-based, gluten-free beef strips. 

With staffing shortages and increasing labor costs, robots and automation make sense for restaurants.  At the show, robots designed to serve food directly to a customer’s table were easy to come by. Nala displayed its robot arm, while 

Rent is also cited as one of the highest costs in running a restaurant; therefore restaurants with smaller square footage makes the most sense moving forward. This need for transitioning to smaller restaurants was represented at the show with smaller kitchen equipment, such as a mini espresso machine.  

Restaurant data was certainly a focal point at the show, as restaurants have never had more access to data due to the increased use of technology in this space. Data is streaming in from multiple points in a restaurant, including through POS systems, kitchen management software, reservation software, and loyalty programs. One takeaway from the show is that an area that still has room to grow is customer data and food service data. 

The need for better customer data

Although restaurants have access to a plethora of data, there is still a need for better customer data. This continues to remain a large area of growth as owners and operators seek to provide personalization and develop loyalty programs for their customers. As trends come and go in the restaurant industry, data, especially, customer data, will continue to become increasingly important. 

With this type of information, restaurants can drive business and delight their customers. With restaurants constantly vying for the same customers, each establishment must put effort into providing a personalized experience to existing and new customers. As restaurateurs know, it is much more difficult and expensive to gain new customers than keep existing ones.

When restaurants know their customers well through data, they know how to change up the menu according to preferences. Top-selling menu items can be highlighted, while underperformers can be eliminated. New ingredients can be incorporated to reinvent existing menu items or new limited-time offers. Unique items or global flavors are another way to draw in your customers. 

Understanding what incentivizes your customers to come back to your restaurant can be used to develop an effective loyalty program. In turn, this type of software can be used to track customer spending and ordering history, which are both two rich forms of data. 

Overall, the more satisfied a customer is, the more likely they are to return to your restaurant. A positive, personalized experience increases their chance of talking about it with friends and family. When you know exactly what your customer wants (which can be learned from customer data) , you can tweak your business to fit their needs and desires. 

The need for better foodservice market data

As trends such as plant-based meat analogs, sustainable packaging, and robots continue to develop, there is still room for development when it comes to restaurant data.  Specifically, foodservice market data. 

With constant innovation, new players and providers, the market is moving non-stop in front of our eyes. Change is typically a good thing, but how do you keep up? As a supplier, it is more challenging than ever to target the restaurant market, especially with increasing competition. More than ever, suppliers and vendors need to practice intelligent marketing and sales. With tighter profit margins, uncontrollable external factors, and more competition, restaurant owners and operators do not have the bandwidth to have their time wasted by you. 

With that being said, in this fast-paced and ever-changing industry, data-driven decisions are the key to winning the market. Data will help inform who you will reach out to, who you market to, and how you sell to customers. It will keep you on the cutting edge of emerging restaurant industry trends, and ensure that you are one step ahead of new competition. 

Foodservice market data for competitive research

Despite whatever is trending in the restaurant industry, data will always help restaurateurs, vendors, operators make informed decisions. A large swath of restaurant data can be useless, but specific, up-to-date can unlock key business insights. With data from over 120,000 establishments, 600,000 menus, and 200 million menu items, Brizo provides smarter lead generation, prospecting, and market research. With this level of intelligence, owners, operators, and vendors can gain a competitive edge by always being on top of restaurant and menu trends.