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National Restaurant Association Show: The Future of Dining

The National Restaurant Association Show is the place to explore everything that’s happening in the restaurant industry.  During its run here in Chicago, over 67,000 food service professionals from around the world gathered at McCormick Place. On display were the latest trends in the food service industry from ingredients, advancements in restaurant technology, kitchen gadgets and more. 

National Restaurant Association Show's Opening Ceremony
National Restaurant Association Show’s Opening Ceremony

Why should this interest you?  Because as patrons the new products and technology will have a direct impact on our dining experiences in the months and years to come.

National Restaurant Association

Founded in 1919, the National Restaurant Association or NRA for short is the leading business association for the restaurant industry.   The NRA is comprised of one million restaurant and food service outlets and a workforce of 15.1 million employees. The National Restaurant Association Show is the most comprehensive trade show for the restaurant, food service, and hospitality industry in the U.S. and abroad.

This year’s theme was ‘100 Years of Wow’ in celebration of the trade show’s 100-year anniversary.

Chef Rick Bayless at the National Restaurant Association Show's Opening Ceremony
Chef Rick Bayless at the National Restaurant Association Show’s Opening Ceremony

National Restaurant Association Show

The trade-only show ran for 4 days and was filled with Education sessions, chef demonstrations, hot products from over 2,300 exhibitors, and award honors in food and beverage and innovation.

Cocktail tasting at the National Restaurant Association Show
Cocktail Demonstration and Tasting

NRA Panel Discussions

Panel discussion at the National Restaurant Association Show
Panel Discussing The Future of Dining

Some of the topics included:

  • The future of restaurants; experts spoke on how technology is helping restaurants with efficiency and improve operations.
  • The Future of Dining; leaders discussed major trends that could shake up the food service industry in the years to come.

NRA Chef Demonstrations

Chef Diana Davila at the National Restaurant Association Show
Chef Diana Davila courtesy of NRA

Celebrity and up and coming chefs such as Rick Bayless, Andrew Zimmern, Diana Davila, and Anjula Davi, demonstrated their cooking techniques, shared their stories, and gave practical suggestions for at home cooks.

Chef pasta demonstration at the National Restaurant Association Show
Photo Courtesy of NRA

I learned from Chef Andrew Zimmern that I’m committing a few cooking mistakes at home.   He stated that most home cooks.

  • Don’t use enough heat
  • Overcrowd their skillets
  • Don’t taste their food

Frankly, no one could ever accuse me of not tasting my food.  I actually over taste to the point of being full once the dish is complete.  However, I am guilty of oftentimes not allowing the skillet to thoroughly heat to a high temperature and overcrowding.  Mostly because of rushing.  As a result, browning, a vital step towards exceptional flavor is hindered. Browning meat and caramelizing vegetables such as onion leaves behind a fond (the brown particles found at the bottom of a pan after browning) which is the foundation of flavor in a dish as it gives increased levels of flavor.  The more places that you can season, add textures, and different flavors makes the difference between a decent meal and a curl your toes good meal!

Kitchen Innovation and Food and Beverage Awards at the NRA Show

Kitchen Innovation (KI) Awards were bestowed for the latest in equipment designed to improve back-of-house operations and benefit food service operators. View the list of winners here.

Kitchen Innovation Awards at the National Restaurant Association Show
Kitchen Innovation Awards at the National Restaurant Association Show

Food and Beverage Awards (FABI) honored the year’s most delicious, unique, and exciting food and beverage products that benefit restaurant operators and consumers.  Check out the list of recipients and products here

FABI award presentation at the National Restaurant Association Show
FABI Awards

Exhibitor Floor at the NRA

I was mostly looking forward to the exhibitor floor. Testing out products and discovering new things was both exciting and informative! The following are a few products and takeaways.


In an effort to improve customer service and dining experiences as well as take some of the toil off of humans, more restaurants are utilizing robots. As a result, don’t be surprised if your server is not human in the future. Speaking from my background as a former waitress, it’s about time! So many nights after my shift felt like I’d just finished a marathon!

Plant Based Foods are on the Rise

My biggest takeaway was that the demand for plant based products is rapidly growing!  I was beyond impressed at the how far things have come in terms of taste and availability of plant-based foods. The taste of Good Catch’s fish-free tuna surprised me! I eat plant based 80-90 percent of the time and I will surely check for this at Whole Foods.

Beyond Meat is another great brand with plant-based burgers, sausages, and crumbles. Their products are available in many restaurants and stores.

Plant based sausage links on a pretzel bun
Beyond Meat’s Plant-Based Beyond Sausage

Food Safety, Quality, and Sustainability

Consumers are more mindful of the quality of what we consume and its effects on our health and the environment. Sustainability is a term I’ve learned a great deal about this year and it’s influenced the products I buy.  Sustainability is a way for people to use resources without the resources running out. Or in other words, meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Thankfully, more and more suppliers and restaurants are adopting practices that lessen the impact on our environment.

Smoked trout
Fortune Fish & Gourmet Company’s Smoked Trout

Fortune Fish & Gourmet Company as well as Halpern’s Steak & Seafood were two out of many companies present who have implemented practices to protect the environment through sustainable fisheries and sustainable agriculture. The smoked trout from Fortune Fish & Gourmet Company was outstanding! The best smoked trout I’ve ever had, hands-down!

The steak from Halpern’s was also incredible! And, whether consumers are looking for “All Natural”, “Sustainably Raised” or “Local” or “Grass Fed products; they meet the need.

Two companies worth looking into for sure!


Ever had a beer slushie? They may be coming to a bar or restaurant near you thanks to Zamboozy, the adult slushie freezer. Created by the Taylor Company, Zamboozy was designed to make it easy for owners/operators to turn ordinary craft brews and cocktails into trending frozen adult beverages. I was told that you can turn basically any craft beer into a slushie and I do love a good craft beer! Although, my favorite from my slushie taste test was the sangria. Perfect summer treat!

Fried Green Tomatoes Co.

Green tomatoes and batter mix for frying
Fried Green Tomatoes

Batter mix from Fried Green Tomatoes Co. became available two and a half years ago after repeated requests from customers at their food truck. After tasting their fried pickles and green tomatoes, there’s no question as to why this mix is such high demand. To see which stores in your area carry the mix click here. Also, you can also get this product shipped.

Trident Seafood Protein Noodles

These fish noodles are packed with 1O grams of protein per serving, zero fat, gluten-free, non gmo, and only 7 grams of carbs! Made from Wild Alaska Pollock, fully cooked and ready to go, a great alternative to pasta! They reminded me of calamari which is even better. Click here for more information and recipes. You can find this product at Costco.

Fish noodles with vegetables and bread crumbs
Fish Noodles

Java House Cold Brew Coffee

Incredible cold brew, plain and simple. I prefer cream and a scant amount of sugar in my coffee. I thoroughly enjoyed this coffee black and didn’t miss a beat. Learn more about Java House here.

Java House coffee k-cups and cold brew bottles
Java House Cold Brew

Junior Sterno Smore’s Maker

Who doesn’t love smores; especially when camping? I’ve tried every trick in the book while out in the woods and had few successes along with many fails. The simple and easy design of the Junior Sterno S’Mores Maker makes this a no-brainer purchase. It’s only $14.99 on Amazon!

Tennessee Cheesecake

Tennessee Cheesecake was the standout at the National Restaurant Association Show for me. Trust me, I tried my fair share of desserts while there. Valerie Wilson set out to create the perfect cheesecake in 1981 and spent many hours of careful research and development to create the perfect product. She succeeded! The cheesecakes can be shipped nationwide for those of not lucky enough to be in Nashville Tennessee.

Frozen Ramen

Shin Uchi frozen ramen created quite the buzz at the National Restaurant Association Show. It’s a great alternative for ramen lovers at home. I was told that by the representative that I should be able to find this product at Asian stores across Chicago. I hope she’s right!

Frozen ramen on display at the National Restaurant Association Show
Frozen Ramen

The National Restaurant Association Show demonstrated that the future of dining is efficient, more responsible, and cognizant of what diners and consumers want. Additionally, with restaurant sales projected to reach over $825 billion in 2018, the future is also bright.

What do you think of some of the trends in the restaurant industry? Let me know in the comments.

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