5 Takeaways From the National Restaurant Association Show

If you missed this year’s National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, here are five takeaways highlighting what’s top of mind for today’s restaurateurs.

8 min read
Banner cutting at the National Restaurant Association Show 2022

This year’s National Restaurant Association Show took place from May 21 to 24, with over 1,700 exhibitors and 51,000 individuals from the restaurant industry coming together in Chicago to sample tasty food, explore the latest technologies, and share ideas with one another to maximize their business growth. 

The energy was high after a three-year hiatus — with attendees eager to discuss opportunities for growth and share any hurdles they may have faced along with creative tactics they used to overcome these challenges. 

As always, the show was a chance for participants to sample trending concoctions, like plant-based foods, and build industry connections — in person, at last. 

Top takeaways from the show

Here are five themes that stood out from the four-day event.

Customer experience is top of mind

In today’s unpredictable world, the consumer’s relationship with their favorite restaurants and dining establishments is more important than ever. Customer experience was the phrase on everyone’s lips — how to maintain it as well as ways to improve upon it.

Lettuce Entertain You, a Chicago-based multi-concept restaurant group with more than 100 restaurants nationwide, spoke about the importance of creating a consistent brand experience for their loyal customers.

“We have 60 different brands and they operate very differently. Partnering with DoorDash gave us the same platform for all of our brands so if you went to one of our restaurants, it was the same, it was unified.” 

Jen Bell, Chief Marketing Officer, Lettuce Entertain You  

Using DoorDash Drive, a white-label fulfillment platform that powers direct delivery for any business, Lettuce Entertain You was able to offer its customers a native experience while maintaining brand authenticity. 

“We have a Lettuce Eats app, and it appears to the customer as our own delivery service, but it’s powered through DoorDash. Our customers won’t miss a beat. They’ll get their points and Reward Dollars, and they can use their gift cards all in one spot. It’s something we’re really proud of.”

Jen Bell, Chief Marketing Officer, Lettuce Entertain You  

Raising brand awareness is still of utmost importance

While the show featured plenty of eye-catching innovations, like robots, one topic on everyone’s mind was how to reach new customers. 

A number of restaurateurs, who are always looking for efficiency in their marketing programs, spoke about their ongoing outreach and retention efforts, as well as the need to introduce customers to new or emerging brands.

Dallas-based restaurant holding company Brinker International, which owns Chili’s and Maggiano’s Little Italy, turned to DoorDash when launching its virtual brand, It’s Just Wings. They ran marketing campaigns on DoorDash to easily reach their intended audience.

“We use ads and promos on DoorDash to gain visibility for It’s Just Wings. It’s a new brand, so there’s still a ton of people that have never ordered from It’s Just Wings, have never heard about it, so the promotions and ads section - the offers carousel on DoorDash is where we like to run ads so guests can see us. It gets [us] some love there and drives trial and awareness.” 

Dylan Taylor-Smith, Senior Director, Digital Guest Experience, Brinker International  

Data continues to drive growth

Data is increasingly a topic of consideration for restaurant and culinary professionals in their persistent search to discover what their customers like and how to ensure their loyalty.

The data from white-label ordering apps can be especially useful in terms of gathering information about customer preferences and behaviors.

As restaurant mobile apps continue to rise in popularity and expand in functionality, restaurants like Lettuce Entertain You have leaned on DoorDash to power backend innovative features across multiple platforms.

“One of the things we try to do all the time is try to anticipate our guests' needs and take away their pains. The white-label solution allows us to have data. Simple. More data, more opportunity to understand our guests — how they operate and what they need. It’s anticipating their needs and taking away their pain.”

Jen Bell, Chief Marketing Officer, Lettuce Entertain You  

Restaurants are diversifying their revenue streams

Faced with hurdles such as inflation and supply chain shortages, restaurateurs at the show explored creative ways to diversify their sources of revenue. 

Not surprisingly, many of these strategies came about as restaurants were forced to pivot and modify their operations during the interruptions caused by COVID-19. New and profitable channels include alcohol delivery and retail sales.

Leading fast-casual brand Panera Bread spoke about one way that they’re looking to expand beyond traditional channels — through DashMart, a DoorDash-owned and operated grocery and convenience store.

“We believe customers are loyal to the DoorDash program, and that they are going to try other verticals like DashMart. 

Whitney Hewitt, Vice President of Channel Growth, Panera Bread

Delivery and pickup are here to stay

After four days of walking around sampling the latest innovations, like plant-based shrimp and smoking drinks, one thing became clear. 

Delivery and pickup — once thought to be nice options — have gone mainstream. Restaurants everywhere are working on new ways to delight their customers through these convenient channels.

“Delivery was a nice-to-have before — now it’s a revenue center. Now we think about it as part of the concept. It’s an integral part of our business. We searched long and hard for a partner for pickup and delivery. We partnered with DoorDash and their Storefront solution, making it affordable for our company and for customers to order directly from our portal.” 

Jen Bell, Chief Marketing Officer, Lettuce Entertain You

We did a lot of homework, and we looked at all of the players in the space at the time and DoorDash was the no-brainer choice, easily the strongest partner relative to where our restaurants were.  I think there’s two restaurants now out of about 1,000 Chili’s that don’t have DoorDash coverage today. That’s pretty impressive. It’s grown massively over the last couple of years.

Dylan Taylor-Smith, Senior Director, Digital Guest Experience, Brinker International

At the same time, delivery models are becoming more flexible. Restaurants no longer need to simply decide whether or not to offer pickup and delivery, or even how to staff for it.

For restaurants that may only need occasional support in delivery staffing and logistics, there’s even on-demand delivery.

Restaurants continue to inspire

Who knows what the upcoming year will bring in terms of new dining and beverage experiences? It’s tricky to predict the future. 

Whatever happens, we look forward to seeing creativity from restaurants everywhere. To learn more about DoorDash’s perspective on where the industry is headed, download our 2023 Restaurant Online Ordering Trends report.


Diana Donovan
Diana Donovan


logo subscribe to blog

Subscribe for insights to help you run a great business, delivered weekly to your inbox.