Top Takeaways from the 2023 National Restaurant Association Show
  • Boost customer visits with personalized promotions in your loyalty program
  • Community building plays a role in brand loyalty
  • Unique limited-time offers (LTOs) are good for business
  • AI and tech transform the restaurant industry – but it won’t steal your job
  • Plant-based menu options & healthy lifestyle trends
  • Non-alcoholic drinks can boost sales
  • Adopting a growth mindset, understanding the customer

As always, the National Restaurant Association Show was not to be missed, and Revenue Management Solutions (RMS) was there, along with 55,000 other attendees and more than 2,100 exhibitors.

Whether it was back-of-house innovations, groundbreaking food products, or expert-led educational programming, RMS took note (and pictures).

While some of what we heard wasn’t necessarily new news (importance of loyalty programs, knowing your brand value, incorporating AI/ML), it did confirm the direction RMS has been taking over the previous months. That said, here are RMS attendees’ top takeaways from the 2023 National Restaurant Association Show:

1. Boost customer visits with personalized promotions in your loyalty program

A central theme during the seminar sessions was leveraging loyalty programs to encourage increased usage and return visits. Much emphasis was placed on the importance of creating targeted messages for loyalty programming to deliver. RMS agrees with this — loyalty programs remain a great tool to drive affinity and growth. But for these programs to work, brands must consider the entire digital customer journey and its touchpoints such as the website, mobile app, social media accounts and so forth.

Embracing this holistic approach and optimizing the brand’s online presence can play a significant role in strengthening customer loyalty. The key lies in prioritizing personalized and engaging experiences for each guest.

By using data-driven insights into the strategic design of loyalty programs, brands can create a unique and compelling user experience that sets them apart from competitors.

IHOP takeaways from the National Restaurant Association Show 2023.
Loyalty programs offer a way to find unrealized value among customers according to IHOP’s Educational Session.

IHOP underscored the power of loyalty programs, suggesting there are two L’s to consider: the “little l” (the loyalty program) and the “big L” (the love customers have for your brand).

Knowing your business and customers well allows brands to tap into “unrealized value” among guests. This interesting perspective offered a way to view loyalty programs as a device to show off the full breadth of your brand, not just the menu.

2. Community building plays a role in brand loyalty

Beyond great vegan food, Pinky Cole, CEO and Founder of Slutty Vegan, is known for being loud and proud about what she has created. During her keynote, she stressed the importance of delivering a positive customer experience at all touch points.

Pinky Cole speaks during the National Restaurant Association Show 2023.
Pinky Cole speaks during the National Restaurant Association Show 2023.

While all loyalty programs aim to bring people together to love the brand and order from them, Cole uses her brand’s loyalty program to build a community. Besides being the face of the brand, she is constantly communicating with her customers and has personal moments with them through SMS (text) campaigns. In turn, her customers are able to connect with her and Slutty Vegan on a level that large brands may have a harder time achieving.

3. Unique limited-time offers (LTOs) are good for business

Limited-time offers (LTOs) were also a hot topic on the stage. Not only do LTOs present a significant opportunity to draw incremental traffic and increase sales, but surprisingly, LTOs can also play a role in brand image.

Customers have left behind COVID comfort food and are excited to see who will serve them the next best thing. They are eager to try unique flavor combinations and the newest and most delicious foods, including plant-based items and global food trends. Think matcha from Japan, elote from Mexico, tahini from the Middle Eastern regions, the list goes on. Ana Maria Rodriguez, Chief of Food Innovation and Quality Officer at Pizza Hut Global noted that introducing global flavors into your LTO’s not only appeals to the adventurous customers, but also taps into the diverse cultural groups residing in the US.

As with loyalty programs, LTOs can help brands learn a great deal about your customer and what they want. Speakers urged attendees to be creative with LTOs as they present an opportunity to shape and influence how customers perceive your brand. While it may take time and experimentation, LTOs are more likely to attract business than not.

4. AI and tech transform the restaurant industry – but it won’t steal your job

This year, the National Restaurant Association Show confirmed that the use of AI and technology are as prevalent in QSRs. Ranging from advanced, cloud-based POS systems and interactive kiosks to advanced robots capable of dishwashing and fry flipping, the presence of AI was evident. At the drive-thru and in-store, AI-enabled kiosks remain areas of high interest given their ability to shorten lines for guests and streamline data collection for operators. In fact, in 2022, RMS’ CEO, John Oakes, predicted that this will be the year of kiosks thanks to its effectiveness in incorporating upselling strategies and alleviating labor challenges.

A robot dog capable of picking up your delivery order.
A robot dog by UnitreeRobotics capable of picking up your delivery order (and guard your home or go jogging with you).

On the show floor, innovative concepts demonstrated that AI-driven technology can seamlessly handle order-taking and even deliver exceptional customer service. But restaurant thought leaders also realize the value that actual human employees offer and are not itching to move them off the floor completely.

For now, the key takeaway for AI in the restaurant industry focuses on creating a seamless and frictionless experience for staff and customers. If using AI can accomplish this, it may be the correct tool for the job. If not, don’t force it.

5. Plant-based menu options & healthy lifestyle trends

In the coming years, plant-based meats will likely have their own place on the menu. New brands and products are constantly introduced to the market and were at the National Restaurant Association Show for the sampling. Think plant-based ground meats, seafood in the form of sushi, slices of steak, chicken in all formats (wings, nuggets, fingers), ice cream, bread, eggs and more. RMS attendees noted that the smells and visuals of plant-based products were hard to discern from their non-plant-based versions, but textures and tastes are still a work in progress.

This year, there was an increased emphasis on appealing to consumers who value a holistic, healthy lifestyle with food comprising only one element. In line with this trend, the term “natural” was featured often as a selling point. There was particular emphasis on understanding how “health” is viewed differently across generations. It’s important to note that brands should approach certain topics with sensitivity and thorough consumer research.

6. Non-alcoholic drinks can boost sales

In one session (“Zero Proof, Zero Judgement”), speakers explained that increasing the number of non-alcoholic options on a menu can widen an audience, increase traffic and boost sales. A large portion of the population doesn’t consume alcoholic beverages due to sober or physically active lifestyles, religious reasons, age restrictions, being the designated driver or even medication interactions. By offering a variety of higher-end, non-alcoholic drink options, the speakers explained, you can better capture these demographics.

What are other benefits of adding non-alcoholic drinks to your menu?

Unique, non-alcoholic beverages provide festive — and more profitable — options that customers can trade into from ordinary, low-margin options like soda, water or teas. In a time where presentation is important to the customer, an exotic-looking non-alcoholic beverage can be provided at a higher price point to avoid negative trade with high-margin cocktails. These drinks also use many of the same ingredients as cocktails, avoiding the need to purchase extra SKUs.

7. Adopting a growth mindset, understanding the customer

The final word from RMS about 2023 National Restaurant Association Show? Adopt a growth mindset, and explore multiple avenues and concepts that can provide a better customer experience and improve the bottom line.

Some questions worth asking as you adopt a growth mindset:

  • What kinds of tech should I incorporate into my business that will provide the best value long term?
  • What can I do to stay top of mind with my customers?
  • How can I ensure positive value perception?
  • What else can I do to engage with customers?
  • How will I show my brand’s value in the face of a looming recession?
  • What are my customers’ pain points, and how can I enhance their experience to build trust?

Final Thoughts

As an operator or franchisor in a highly competitive and inflationary market, you can differentiate your brand not only in how you speak to customers but also by understanding their expectations, why they choose to engage with you, why they are going out in general and what value you bring to them. As one speaker said, “People are changing. Don’t get left behind.”

When experience is everything, you need insights to make changes and decisions confidently. Over the past 25 years, RMS has helped turn customer insights into profitable actions for global brands. Let us put our expertise to work for your brand. Reach out for more information — we’ll get back to you right away.

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