Insider’s Guide to the 2024 National Restaurant Association Show

By Christina Lau|May 2, 2024|2:50 pm CDT

Getting ready for the 2024 National Restaurant Association Show (NRS)? So are we. It’s one of the biggest events of the year for the restaurant industry, a major opportunity to connect with other industry professionals, discover new tools and technologies, and find chances to work with your peers. Not to mention a chance to raise your glass and celebrate the industry!

Attending the NRS is always exciting, but it can also be a bit overwhelming with so much to do. Let’s walk through everything you should know to prepare for a great event—from key locations and navigation to swag and dress code.

What to Know About the National Restaurant Association Show

The 2024 NRS takes place from May 18-21. It’s hosted in McCormick Place (the biggest convention center in the USA), just south of downtown Chicago, and accessible by bus or train.

Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of the show.

Navigating the Show Floor

The NRS is a huge event, and it’s common for attendees to step onto the show floor and not know where to begin. But don’t sweat it—here’s a quick overview of the floor highlights so you can plan your day.

Food and Beverages

There are six main areas where you can experience the NRS’s culinary offerings.

  • A Taste of the States. The North end of aisles 7400-8300 is dedicated to showcasing the year’s hottest culinary trends in the United States. This is a great place to swing by if you want to chat directly with food producers about their products and how you might incorporate them into new menu offerings.
  • Bellavita Italian Pavilion. This pavilion, located on the north end of aisles 8300-9000 (Lakeside level 3) offers unique Italian products and demos from Italian chefs. A must-see for Italian restaurateurs and fans alike.
  • Iberica Spanish Pavilion. Right next to the Bellavita Italian Pavilion, you can get a taste of Spain, including food, wine, and unique ingredients.
  • The Beverage Room. While you’re on Lakeside Level 3, head to the end of aisles 11100-11500 to sip on some amazing cocktails and glean insight into developing a stand-out beverage menu.
  • Global Food Expo. If you’re interested in adding some global variety to your menu, stop by Lakeside Center. There you’ll find the Global Food Expo, showcasing ingredients from countries around the world.
  • Organic & Natural. At the south end of aisles 100-1500 (South Hall) you’ll find a special emphasis on natural foods—a great place to learn about organic, plant-based, and sustainable products.

Programming & Education

The National Restaurant Association Show offers five different locations to access educational programming.

Because the programming varies so widely, the best approach is to pick out the sessions you want to attend first and then plan your route. Explore the options in the links below, taking note of programming that might overlap.

Startup Alley

Startup Alley can introduce you to new tech solutions, but this alley isn’t exclusively for tech platforms. This is also the place to be if you want to learn about innovative new products and suppliers. Curious about what’s going on in the world of plant-based meat, allergen-free ingredients, or ice cream innovation? This is the place to be.

Startup Alley is located at the south end of aisles 1700-2200 in the South Hall.

TECH Pavilion

If you’re attending the NRS hoping to learn about new tools and technologies that could support your business, you’ll definitely want to swing by the TECH pavilion. Here you’ll discover technology that can help manage your workforce, finances, restaurant operations, and more. This is also a great place to head if you’re interested in learning about how to incorporate automation or AI into your restaurant management.

You can find the pavilion at the north end of aisles 5500-7200 in the North Hall.

Stop by Fourth’s Booth

Come see Fourth and HotSchedules at booth #6258 in the TECH Pavilion! We can’t wait to celebrate our 25th anniversary with our restaurant community.

Got a burning question about operations challenges, incorporating AI in your business operations, or staying competitive as an independent restaurant owner? Our c-suite will be onsite and ready to offer practical advice.

Already a customer? We’d love to see you. Come learn how to earn $850 with our customer referral program or get 1 free year of HotSchedules with our HR & payroll service.

Because we like to balance work and play, visitors to our booth will also have the chance to win 2 VIP 4-day tickets to Lollapalooza 2024, including a voucher for a 4-night hotel stay and your flight.

Even if music festivals aren’t your thing, we’ve got plenty of fun swag to share. Come spin our wheel for a chance to win ice cream, robots, snacks, and more.

Here’s a tip: use the NRS Show Planner. The Show Planner makes it easy to plan your itinerary and logistics of the day, so you can quickly arrange and update your show schedule. The NRS can get hectic, but the Show Planner is an incredible tool for staying organized and on track.

Plus, everyone who pre-books a meeting with us through the Show Planner doubles their entries for the Lollapalooza raffle.

Ready to connect? Schedule your 1:1 meeting with Fourth’s C-Suite through the Show Planner.

Double your raffle entry for 2 VIP Lollapalooza tickets

Book a 1:1 meeting with Fourth’s C-suite through the NRS Show Planner, and double your chances to win 2 VIP Lollapalooza tickets (hotel + flight voucher included).

Tips to Navigate the NRS Successfully and Manage Your Time 

Review the Floor Plan

Take some time to familiarize yourself with the McCormick Place map and the NRS floor plan. It’s a big place, and you’ll be able to navigate with much greater confidence if you already understand the general layout of the event.

Pick Your Top Priorities

To make the most of your visit, be sure to plan ahead by researching the pavilions, exhibitors, and features you most want to see. There’s lots to see at the NRS, and while there’s nothing wrong with following your whims once you’re there, it would be a shame to miss out on highlights due to getting lost or not being sure where to go.

Consider making a list of the meetups, exhibitors, and educational sessions you’re most interested in visiting or attending. Jot down their booth location and, if relevant, their schedule. This list will come in handy while making your itinerary, but it’s also nice to have backup options at the ready in case your plans change on the day.

Make an Itinerary

Once you know what you’re most looking forward to at the show, draw up an itinerary for every day you plan to attend. Certain events, like talks from keynote speakers and industry presentations, may only happen once.

Recommended Sessions

Still stuck on what sessions to attend? Here are a few we’re excited about.

AI Marketing: Real-World Examples of How Restaurants Are Driving Growth Through Automation

A Sunday afternoon session full of tips and expertise to help you get started automating your restaurant marketing with AI.

Explore this session

Optimizing AI for Enhanced Guest and Restaurant Team Experiences

Swing by this session on Monday morning to learn how AI can improve the dining experience, delight customers, and improve loyalty.

Explore this session

What Should I Wear to the 2024 National Restaurant Association Show?

In general, NRS dress attire straddles the line between casual and business casual. Since the show takes place in a large venue, you can expect a fair amount of walking from place to place, including potentially taking several flights of stairs. Considering this, you’ll definitely want to wear clothes that you’ll stay comfortable in throughout the long days. Comfortable walking shoes are especially critical.

Spring weather in Chicago can be unpredictable, ranging from chilly and rainy to sunny and warm. That being said, McCormick Place tends to run cold. It’s a good idea to bring layers, including a light jacket or sweater, to ensure you’re comfortable no matter what the day brings.

If you’re a vendor or representing your company at NRS, you’ll also want to consider how to maintain professionalism while dressing for comfort. Dressing in branded attire or company swag can be a great choice for increasing brand recognition without becoming overly formal. When in doubt, business casual standards like dark pants and polo shirts are usually a safe choice.

What Should I Bring to the 2024 National Restaurant Association Show?

If you’re planning to research software solutions, suppliers, or new products, it’s wise to bring a notebook or tablet to help take notes. With so much to see, it would be a monumental task to retain everything without writing it down.

Fill your wallet with business cards before heading out for the show. The NRS is an amazing opportunity for networking—and you might also need business cards to enter raffles and giveaways. You can expect to collect some fun swag and promotional materials during the show, so don’t overpack your bag!

On that note, if you’re attending as a vendor, don’t forget all the promotional materials that will cover your booth. That’s in addition to any final booth decorations you want to add, like fake plants, tablecloths, or banners.

Finally, no matter who you are or why you’re attending, you’d probably benefit from packing some chargers for your electronic devices and possibly a power bank. Don’t rely on finding an outlet—even if you can track one down, you don’t want to be stuck in place during the NRS.

How to Maximize Your Presence at the 2024 National Restaurant Association Show

If you’re going to the NRS with the hope of networking or increasing awareness for your brand, we’ve got good news for you. While the NRS’s sessions and workshops are certainly interesting and enjoyable in their own right, they also offer fantastic opportunities to connect with other professionals.

Here are a few strategies to help you engage with vendors, presenters, and other attendees:

  • Visit a variety of booths. Remember, conversations at booths go both ways. You might be learning about an exciting new operations platform, but you also have the chance to chat about your own business and consider opportunities for collaboration.
  • Attend workshops. Workshops are a great chance to meet like-minded people, whether those are fellow attendees or the speakers themselves. If a workshop really clicks with you, don’t be afraid of telling the speaker so. They’ll probably appreciate the feedback, and you’ll make a new connection.
  • Check out networking events. These NRS-hosted events are specifically designed to help professionals connect and collaborate. Sometimes they’re truly the easiest way to expand your professional community.
  • Swap info. Keep business cards handy, and be ready to hand them out to new connections. Remember, these connections can only pay off if you continue to nurture them. Connect on professional networking platforms, and stay in touch beyond the show.


The National Restaurant Association Show is a unique chance for restaurant industry professionals to connect with leaders in product and software innovation, exchanging knowledge and finding mutual opportunities for growth.

We hope you’re as excited as we are to attend—and that you can use some of these tips to make the most of the event, whether as an attendee or an exhibitor.

We’re looking forward to seeing you at booth #6258 in the TECH pavilion! Don’t forget to schedule your visit to our booth through the Show Planner so you can keep your itinerary organized and double your chances for our Lollapalooza raffle. See you soon!

Reduce food, labor, and inventory costs with AI

Learn more and meet with us at the show. Schedule a 1:1 meeting with Fourth’s C-suite through the NRS Show Planner now.