Get Ready To Spec at the 2024 National Restaurant Association Show

Press the buttons. Pull the levers. And learn how AI and robotics might enhance all restaurant equipment—even kitchen workhorses.

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The National Restaurant Association Show returns to Chicago's McCormick Place in a few weeks.

Whether you specify equipment for an established mega-chain or a regional counter-service concept, you’ll find one constant in new offerings: technology tie-ins including artificial intelligence. New, revised and add-on foodservice equipment pieces make use of high-tech advances that fall under the AI umbrella. They’ll be on display among the more than 2,200 exhibitor booths at the National Restaurant Association Show, to be held in Chicago, May 18-21.

As the nation moves on from the pandemic, this upcoming trade show is projected to draw 55,000 people—35,000 attendees plus vendors—possibly reaching the show’s peak in 2019. The annual gathering is more than a century old, yet the 2024 assembly will have a fresh take thanks to products with space-age aspects.

Be Smart About Smart Technology

You may be satisfied with your combi oven or grill, but take a look at versions that might make your operation more efficient. “In today’s tech scene, it’s all about AI lending a hand where it counts,” notes Caitlin Rodgers, senior director of marketing, exhibition, for the National Restaurant Association Show. “Whether it’s a combi oven with voice commands or a grill with vision sensors, both are making life easier in the kitchen. Plus, equipment is going further to work together and streamline the prep and cooking process like never before. And let’s not forget order pickup solutions that are keeping our orders safe and sound. Efficiency is the name of the game, folks!”

There are even machines that will upgrade your trash and recycling equipment, or heat up food, add ingredients, stir, flavor, plate and self-cleanse.

Many manufacturers will host demos and have product experts at the ready. “If you’re looking for a fryer, you can go from competitor to competitor to get sales pitches, to touch and feel each product,” notes Rodgers, adding that many manufacturers offer on-the-spot training. “Ask a salesperson questions. Ask for help assessing the size you’ll need. Ask service people how to solve your challenges.”

In addition, the TECH Pavilion will be home to yet more innovations. “It’s a destination for all things point-of-sale, mobile ordering, etc.,” says Rodgers. “You’ll see products, tools and processes that can help to make your business more modern, efficient and profitable.”

Checking In on the Sharks

Equipment manufacturers, technology suppliers and others in business for three years or fewer will display their wares on Startup Alley. Vendors in this section offer items from specially designed bar stations to thermometers that send text alerts when cooler doors are left open, portable foodservice trailers and AI-driven digital kitchen solutions.

More Ways To Learn

JoseAndresChef José Andrés (pictured at left) has drawn a following not only for his Washington, D.C.-based portfolio of Spanish-cuisine restaurants, but also for his nonprofit: World Central Kitchen. Andrés will be the keynote speaker on Monday, May 20. “It will be a captivating discussion about his influence on the food community and his outreach across the globe,” Rodgers shares.

A featured session with Technomic on Sunday, May 19, will offer insights into future trends such as drone delivery and alternative proteins.

Speaking of speakers, you’ll have the chance to learn from experts in more intimate circumstances via the new Expo + Education programming. It will be a series of more than 40 operator-led sessions, exclusive roundtable discussions and networking opportunities. It’s open to those with a designated badge, which can be added to a general attendee registration for a fee.

Helpful Hints

The show stretches the size of more than 10 football fields, so plan wisely.

• Download the app. The show’s iOS and Android apps are upgraded every year. Use one to map your walk, find specific makers, catch a shuttle bus, and see speaker and demo schedules.

• Network with peers. If you’re under 40, join other young professionals at the annual Young Professionals Party in The TAP at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place from 5-7 p.m. Sunday, May 19. Operator tickets cost $25.

Attend the show to learn from experts, see would-be purchases in person, and meet with vendors face to face. Also tour the Kitchen Innovations Showroom. The show will offer practical, new information in many forms.

The National Restaurant Association Show

McCormick Place


Show Hours

9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday, May 18

9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday, May 19

9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday, May 20

9:30 a.m.-3 p.m., Tuesday, May 21

For more details, visit


Editor’s note: This story has been updated since it was originally posted.



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