8 trends from this year’s National Restaurant Association Show

The 2024 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago put up some massive numbers earlier this month. During the four-day event, more than 58,000 foodservice attendees representing 124 countries reviewed over 2,400 exhibitors in a space that covered more than 12 football fields.

That crowd included our own Bader Rutter Food and Beverage team and our Foodservice Practice Lead, Laoise Rubio. Our team scoured the show gathering delicious insights and trends. Here’s a look at our top eight:

1. Global Flavors

One of the show’s best bites came from King’s Hawaiian whose Terracotta Warrior Sliders provided a perfect example of why global flavors continue to expand on menus everywhere. Other international fan favorites were Mochi Donuts from and the dizzying assortment of guacamoles from Avocados from Mexico.

2. Delivery/Off-Premises

Post-pandemic dining trends have crystallized into habits, an insight that informed how several brands set up their exhibits. Uber Eats, Wilber Curtis and several other brands featured drive-through windows, pick-up cabinets and other delivery offerings. Fun fact: Uber Eats recently collaborated with Kraft Heinz to recruit nominations for a restaurant to be “Heinz-Verified.” Lucky entrants can win $500 in Uber Eats, along with a verification mark on their Uber page. And, no, we’re not entirely sure what that verification means.

3. Automation

With labor challenges a consistent pain point, automation made a big appearance at the show. One particularly interesting example was the RoboFry by Charter House Innovations. With a patent pending, this piece of equipment claims to be 4x faster at filling, shaking, scooping and dumping fries – streamlining the entire process and freeing up labor to do other things. Like, possibly, fixing the ice cream machine.

4. Elevated Teas

Tea is piping hot. And cold. And sparkling. And still. The show floors brimmed with unique tea concoctions of every type. Brands Tractor Beverage Co. and Keurig Dr. Pepper showcased fun tea flavors such as mandarin cardamom, watermelon mint and mango.

5. Customization

Brands continue to embrace personalization and customization in their endless quest for user-generated content. Heinz reprised its wildly successful customized mini ketchup bottle giveaway, but this year they paired it with a photo op. Guests could grab a shot standing beside a digital screen shaped like the iconic bottle and featuring their own design. Avocados from Mexico invited attendees to create their own flavors with a DIY guacamole bar and encouraged restaurant operators to “Glow Up Your Menu,” using AI to generate guac-centric recipes specific to their own menus.

6. Tacos

Let’s taco ‘bout tacos. From Grecian Delight’s FABI-winning ReadyCarved al pastor tacos to Kraft Heinz’s duck confit tacos, these easy-to-eat on-the-go tortilla favorites were found across the show floor. Fun fact: Datassential reports that “al pastor” appears on 4.3% of U.S. menus, up 22% over the past four years.

7. Sustainability

This theme remains dominant in the industry. A booth that surprised us (in a good way!) was the woman-owned business Wheyward Spirit. By sourcing upcycled whey, the liquid co-product of cheese and other dairy products, it produced “innovative farm-to-flask spirits.” Yum. We guess … Fun fact: For every 10 pounds of milk, a cheesemaker produces 1 pound of cheese, leaving 9 pounds of high-quality whey behind. On a more expected note, Coca-Cola touted its latest sustainability report and the amount of recycled packaging materials they’ve integrated into production.

8. Spices and Hot Sauces

Apparently, lots like it hot. Volcanic, ghost pepper, melt-your-face and yes, even mild: an endless assortment of hot sauces and spices popped up across the show’s three halls. From Spiceology’s Periodic Table of Flavor to Tajin to Melinda’s hot sauces, there were plenty of ways to tweak your taste buds. Mike’s Hot Honey collaboration with Utz potato chips is a great example of how hot sauces and flavors are introducing less traditional companion foods.

We left the show full of inspiration, excitement and lots of good food. Visit for additional thinking on the food and beverage world and examples of how we bring insights like these to life for our clients.

About the Author

Chef Laoise (lee-sha) Rubio brings 22 years of industry experience to her role as Foodservice Practice Lead at Bader Rutter. Professionally trained at Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, Ireland, Laoise worked in restaurants across Europe and the US before opening her own Italian restaurant outside of Chicago. Laoise transitioned back into marketing, leveraging her expertise as a chef in her work with brands including Kraft Foods, Kellogg’s, Campbell’s, ConAgra, Lamb Weston and McCain Foodservice.