Restaurant Industry Insights

Popular Trends and Talks at the National Restaurant Association Show

On May 18, the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago kicked off, attracting more than 58,000 food service professionals from 124 countries. Over 2,240 exhibitors spanned more than 12 football fields, many aligned with the leading trends in the restaurant industry. Some of the popular exhibits shared global flavors, health-conscious options, and AI-driven solutions. Sustainability remained front and center as well as options for the changing consumer’s craving for snackables. 

Here, we’ll explore some of the top trending topics at this year’s industry-leading show.

Gen Z and the Photogenic Drink

Restaurant Dive reported on Steve Madonna, the culinary director at Marlin Connections, who agrees with many that “The phone eats first.” Gen Z wants bold, beautiful, and classic—the perfect combination for today’s cocktails.

One of the popular drinks demonstrated at the show was the gin cocktail with mango concentrate. Another take-off adds a touch of agave.

  • 4 oz gin
  • 0.5 oz agave
  • 1 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 1 cup frozen mango
  • 8 oz. sparkling water

Blend the top four ingredients before adding the sparkling water. Garnish with a fresh, delicate sprig of mint and mango cubes. This effervescent, fruity cocktail is a perfect addition to your summer beverage program.

Boba Tea cocktails were also a big hit, particularly those that combine beauty and flavor like the Lychee Jasmine Boozy Boba. Empress 1908 gin offers the traditional citrus and juniper flavors along with coriander, Empress Black tea blend, cinnamon, ginger, rose petals, and butterfly pea blossoms. Its indigo color makes for an impressive beverage. Add to lychee liqueur, fresh lime juice, jasmine syrup, and purple Taro New Sago Boba bubble tea for a beautiful and refreshing cocktail.  

Classic cocktails with visual appeal include traditional “3-layered” beverages like the tequila sunrise transformed into a shooter. Rainbow Paradise is made with grenadine, coconut-flavored rum, blue curacao, and pineapple juice. When slowly poured into a hurricane glass, the effect is an Instagram-worthy tropical rainbow.

Caviar and Cardamon

Both caviar and cardamon seemed to be everywhere on the show floor, and Gen Z was, once again, a factor in creating space for these foods and flavors to bloom. Early in 2024, caviar sales soared as Gen Zers popularized the cured, unfertilized fish eggs by eating bumps of it, dollops placed on the back of their hands. On TikTok, the hashtag #CaviarBumps racked up about 15 million views. Of course, the caviar sensation isn’t a brand-new trend, with sales exhibiting a 76% increase around the world starting in 2020.

Known as pop rocks of the sea, some brands are using this comparison to create similar textures and sensations. For instance, Australian finger limes burst like fish roe, and encapsulated fortified fish broth provides a similar popping spherical food sensation.

Cardamom has become a staple in the American kitchen and is finding its way onto the restaurant menu. Indian lassi has become a popular addition, a drink made by blending the following ingredients:

  • 1 qt. plain low-fat yogurt
  • 6 – 8 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. ground cardamom
  • Lots of ice

Cardamom hits several of the trending factors, including its global flavor commonly used in Indian cooking and in sweet dishes in the Middle East and Scandinavia. It’s also favored by the health-conscious, having been taken for its medicinal properties and used for centuries as a medicine in Asia. 

Its potential health benefits include relieving indigestion and nausea, controlling gum disease, promoting a healthy heart, and helping boost one’s immune system.

While it looks like the show was all about beverages and exotic flavors, they also covered the financial end of the industry. Topics included continued high interest rates, the growth of non-bank business loans, and their effect on restaurant acquisitions. Enhancing the customer experience was also a popular discussion, incorporating insights into today’s consumer. 

Chef José Andrés, the keynote speaker, was his usual inspirational self, describing how food can bring the world together. 

For those looking for a bit of inspiration as mid-year approaches, nothing is better than attending one of the many events designed specifically for the restaurant industry. 


What are some trends in restaurants in 2024?

Some of the popular additions to the restaurant menu in 2024 include dishes embracing fig leaves and inspired bean dishes such as braised butter beans with goat’s curd and kale. Think healthy, beautiful, and unique.

What were popular topics at the National Restaurant Association Trade Show?

In light of increasing minimum wages, there were lots of conversations about efficient labor practices. Sustainable packaging was also a hot topic and growing in demand, with restaurants playing their part in moving toward more eco-friendly practices.  

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