Restaurant Trade Shows and Conferences: Which Ones Should You Attend? [2022 Edition]

Restaurant trade shows are back, and we couldn’t be more excited.

We’re still in one of the most challenging times for restaurants in recent history — and the only way out is together. That’s why it’s more important than ever to connect with your colleagues in the restaurant industry.

If you’re thinking about attending a restaurant conference this year, we’ve compiled our list of favorites that give you the biggest return on investment (and can provide solutions to the thousands of questions, fears, and hardships you’ve faced since the last time you attended one). You may even see us at a few!

Why You Should Attend a Restaurant Trade Show

Let’s face it: running a restaurant can be a very lonely business. It’s the great irony of being a restaurateur — you’re in the business of serving others, but you rarely get help yourself. Restaurant trade shows and conferences give you a chance to connect with other restaurant owners who may be struggling with the same challenges you’re going through — or to learn from folks have been there, done that.

Restaurant trade shows give you the opportunity to:

  • Take a break! This is a tough biz — and that’s true whether you’re running your own restaurant, playing the franchise game or operating an enterprise brand. The restaurant world never sleeps, and it can be hard to get away. But it’s important to give yourself (or your team) a break from the daily grind. Restaurant trade shows and conferences are the perfect opportunity to take a breather, bond with your colleagues, and get inspired.
  • Learn something. So many people and ideas in one place means there’s bound to be something you haven’t tried before, whether that’s a new culinary technique, business best practice, or tech solution. So come with an open mind, and be ready to take what you learn and apply it to your business when you come home.
  • Meet new people. The best part about restaurant trade shows is the people. These conferences draw diverse crowds who hail from all different places and walks of life — but who have a lot of common ground when it comes to their passions and professions. And they tend to be friendly folks (hey, it is hospitality, after all). Trade shows foster an environment that’s ripe for connection, collaboration and a lot of shared learning. 

What to Expect at a Restaurant Trade Show

Every trade show is a little different, but you can expect a mix of structured content (think: speakers, seminars, workshops) and downtime (perusing the exhibition hall, networking events, etc.). Often, keynote speakers kick off and end each day with high-level advice or inspiration. Throughout the event, you’ll probably have the opportunity to attend more focused sessions around industry trends or best practices; product demonstrations for specific items like appliances or software; and kitchen or food demos that show off suppliers or well-known chefs.

Formal networking opportunities like a happy hour or luncheon are often built into the event agenda. It’s also common for vendors or potential investors or partners to set up one-on-one meetings with restaurant execs and operators — either by reaching out ahead of time, or scheduling something on the spot at the event. But really: great networking can happen when you’re simply waiting in line for the elevators or grabbing a coffee. Everyone is there for the same reasons you are — to learn and make connections — so don’t hesitate to strike up conversations with fellow attendees.

Depending on the theme of the show, you may find more sessions around running the front of house, back of house, or the business overall. No matter what, though, you’ll come away from a trade show having learned, seen, or met someone new.

With COVID-19 regulations, some shows have gone virtual or hybrid, streaming sessions online and moving networking opportunities to chat or through video calls. While virtual events offer a lot more accessibility — no need to fly halfway across the country! — you should still try to give them your full attention. The more you can immerse yourself in the event, the more value you’ll get out of it.

How to Decide Which Shows to Attend

Of course, one of the hard parts about restaurant conferences is that there are so many in a given year. Which to attend? You’ll want to balance:

  • Goals: What do you hope to get out of a conference experience? Are you looking to meet other restaurant owners and talk shop? Find staff at a hiring event? Learn about a specific aspect of the restaurant business? Upgrade your tech stack? Every conference is a little different, and that will influence your choice.
  • Virtual vs. in-person: With COVID-19 restrictions in place in many locations, some restaurant trade shows have gone virtual. While that makes it easier to attend (all you have to do is open your laptop!), it can be more challenging to network or to really test drive a new fridge you’ve had your eye on, for example.
  • Geography: How far away is the conference? Travel time and expenses can add up quickly, so if you’re on a tight budget, consider more local events.
  • Type of restaurant: Each event caters to a slightly different audience. Depending on your restaurant’s cuisine, business structure, and services (such as part of a hotel or brewery, for example), you may want to choose one event over another.
  • Budget. While your local association may help sponsor some events, ultimately, whether or not you attend an event (and how much of your team comes with you) depends on your budget.

The Top 7 Restaurant Trade Shows in 2022

This is only a small snapshot of the food and beverage events happening this year, but some of our favorites (and hey, you might even see us there!)

1. MURTEC // March 7 – 9, 2022

MURTEC, or the Multi-Unit Restaurant Technology Conference, happens each March in Las Vegas. This year the show is back at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino and designed to help restaurant owners digitally transform their operations. Past speakers hail from brands like CKE Restaurants, Restaurant Technology Network, Spyce, P.F. Chang’s, and Taco Bell.

Register here.

2. Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit // March 30 – April 1, 2022

If you fall more on the corporate franchising side of restaurant management, this conference, which takes place every spring at the Grand Hyatt Nashville, is a great choice for you. Covering topics like product development, franchise operations, marketing and branding, and technology use and adoption, this multi-day event boasts a packed lineup with speakers from Panera Bread, Oath Pizza, Fat Brands, Fazoli’s, and more.

Register here.

3. Restaurant Leadership Conference // April 10 – 13, 2022

Located at the luxurious JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort in Phoenix, the Restaurant Leadership Conference is the event to bookmark if you want to hear from some of the biggest executives in the food and beverage space. With headliners like David Chang (Momofuku), Paul Brown (Inspire Brands), and Tucker Bryant (Google), the conference focuses on leadership skills and solving industry-wide challenges taking place today.

Register here.

4. National Restaurant Association Show // May 21 – 24, 2022

The National Restaurant Association Expo is one of the biggest restaurant trade shows in the country. Located in the sprawling McCormick Place Convention Center in downtown Chicago, you’ll find miles of booths covering every aspect of restaurant management, from international suppliers to major appliances to food and beverage demonstrations to restaurant technology.

Register here.

5. Your State Association Conference // Multiple Dates

If getting to Chicago feels out of reach, it’s a good idea to check your local state restaurant association to see if they’re running any events in 2022. Chances are, there will be a scaled-down version of the national show you can attend. These are a great chance to get to know your extended restaurant community, with more local networking opportunities and suppliers. Check your local chapter for dates and more information.

Some of the largest state association events include:

6. FSTEC // September 19 – 21, 2022

More than 1000 attendees and 70 speakers in the course of three days come together at the Gaylord Texan in Dallas for FSTEC every year. Known as “the event where restaurant and tech connect,” FSTEC is focused on helping restaurant industry leaders leverage technology to address real business challenges. The event features speakers from highly reputable national and global brands, including Dave & Busters, Restaurant Business, Technomic, Winsight, D’Angelo Sandwiches, Nathan’s Famous, and more.

Register here.

7. Restaurant Finance & Development Conference // November 14 – 16 2022

Hosted by the Restaurant Finance Monitor, this event — taking place this year at the Wynn Las Vegas in November — focuses on the nitty-gritty operational side of running your restaurant. If you’re looking to secure funding or expand your business into a multi-unit or a franchise, this is a must-attend. Expect to hear from banks, real estate developers, private equity investors, government representatives, and more.

Register here.

Stay head of the tech curve!

Restaurant industry trade shows are a great place to brush up on the latest restaurant tech. But if you’re still paying out cash tips? You don’t have to attend a conference to find a better way to pay. Schedule a demo with Kickfin to see how you can send instant, cashless tip payouts directly to your employees’ bank accounts. 

You might also be interested in

We know how important same-day payments are for veterans of the service industry who are accustomed to quick cash — and we’re now seeing that same demand expand into other industries as well. 

Kickfin co-founder Justin Roberts joined MasterCard’s InConversation Webinar series to discuss why immediate payment disbursal is key for the restaurant industry and the gig economy as a whole.

Watch the webinar here or read our recap for the highlights: 

People live paycheck-to-paycheck

Not just some people are living paycheck to paycheck. Most people are. 

That’s right: around 64% of U.S. consumers are just getting by. Even more shocking, 51% of consumers who earn over six figures are still living paycheck to paycheck, despite their higher tax bracket. 

It’s a major reason why employees need access to their earnings sooner rather than later. The pressure of watching your bank account slowly drain in the two weeks between payday is putting a lot of pressure on people, leading to a much greater demand for instant payments than ever before. 

Instant payouts are now table stakes

A PYMNTS study found that people of all ages prefer to be paid out immediately, as well as some other interesting statistics:

  • When given the choice, 68% of respondents said they would opt for an instant pay out
  • 40% of gig workers surveyed were willing to pay a fee for an instant disbursement
  • 81% of respondents were willing to switch jobs to an employer that offers instant access to earned wages and tips

It’s safe to say instant payouts are becoming the expectation for today’s modern workforce. But not all instant payouts are created equal.

Consumers are much more likely to engage with an instant payout system if they aren’t required to share their bank account and routing numbers and can access funds with just their debit card credentials. Why? It’s faster, more convenient, and feels more secure. 

Instant payouts and tip management: a perfect use case.

Instant payout innovation has come at the perfect time for the restaurant industry, which is struggling more than ever with the hassles and cost of cash.

If you’re in the restaurant biz, then you know: Most consumers pay with credit cards these days, not cash. That means there’s rarely enough cash on hand to pay out tips at the end of a shift. But employees still want and need instant access to their tip earnings.

Enter: instant payouts. Offering employees the option to receive their tip earnings directly to their bank of choice, the second their shift ends, can go a long way in improving employee satisfaction and ensuring their financial security.

But instant payouts are more than a work perk for employees. The operational benefits for employers range from reduced administrative burden and significant time savings to stronger compliance and streamlined reporting.

Modernizing your tip management strategy: 5 best practices 

There are three key components to your tip management strategy: 

  • Tip pool policy: How are you divvying up tips among your staff? 
  • The payout method: How are you distributing those payments?
  • The systems and tech: What are you using to facilitate those payments?

Under the current circumstances, restaurant operators are under immense pressure to bring their tip management into the future. 

5 best practices for tip management 

Based on our experience working with restaurant operators across the country, we’ve found that these five practices are the perfect recipe for building a successful tip management system.  

  1. Determine the right model and method for your restaurant, based on your location and tech stack
  2. Get a written tip policy (and get it legally approved
  3. Solicit employee feedback in a structured way
  4. Leverage technology for efficiency, accuracy, and compliance
  5. Don’t over-complicate (but do over-communicate!)

Tip management solution must-haves

When seeking a new tip management solution, make sure you carefully vet each system to see if it really meets your needs, or if it’ll be just as frustrating as cash. Here are a few suggestions for what should be on your checklist: 

  • Instant payouts
  • Direct to bank of choice
  • Availability of employee funds
  • Payroll option 
  • Integrations 
  • Simple implementation + onboarding process 
  • Around-the-clock customer service 

Big emphasis on strong customer support teams. Restaurants and bars don’t have “typical” business hours, so neither should your tech support.

Bar Louie automates payouts with Kickfin 

In a recent case study, we took a deep dive into our partnership with Bar Louie, a chain with over 60 locations that took advantage of our new integration with Toast. They made the switch from cash payouts to Kickfin’s instant, direct-to-bank payouts and haven’t looked back.  

Two-minute tip-outs

Before Kickfin, managers spent an average of 45 minutes per shift working through Bar Louie’s complex tip out policy and counting cash. The tip pooling rules were important to them — it’s what makes the entire staff feel like they’re getting their fair share. 

Using the Kickfin0Toast integration, Bar Louie was able to automate the tip pool calculation process and send tips straight to employees in under two minutes – a potential annual savings of 15,000 labor hours across all locations.

>> See more customer success stories 

Do you want to see these kinds of cost-saving results at your business? Let’s talk. Get a demo of Kickfin and see why restaurant owners and employees alike trust us to manage their tips.

Kickfin’s best-in-class tip calculation tool has some exciting new bells and whistles.

If you’re already using Kickfin’s tip pool calculator, then you know how much time and hassle you’re saving by automating everything. (And if you’re not? Head over to our tip pooling software page to see how it works!)

As we partner with more restaurants to bring their tip management into the future, we’re continuing to innovate our product so we can address their biggest pain points.

In this case, that means enhancing our tip pooling features so you can auto-calculate tip amounts even for the most complex or unique tip pool or share policies.

Check out a few of our latest features that will make tip calculations easier than ever.

New Release: Splitting Large Party Tips 

If your restaurant often hosts large parties, you know that the tip share can get confusing. Say one server is taking care of a party of 40 with a bartender assigned to only make drinks for that party. Meanwhile, the server has a few other two-top tables that are getting drinks from the main service bar. At the end of the night, how do you ensure that the large-party bartender gets their fair share of the tip out (without spending an hour on your phone calculator)? 

Kickfin can now automate that process for you, alleviating questions from your event bartender and saving time and effort on the part of your managers. 

Seamless Integrations 

Kickfin is partnering with your POS system to integrate seamlessly with your existing restaurant tech. Already, we’re serving Toast customers through our integration — and your POS just might be up next. 

Kickfin integration users get access to new product features first, like our new tip-out transparency tool. Your employees can log into their Kickfin accounts and see exactly how their tips have been split between team members, offering them full transparency into your tip policy in action.

Manager Tips 

We’re always listening to feedback to improve the Kickfin experience, and this one goes out to all of our restaurant partners who asked us to streamline the manager tip reallocation process.

>>Learn more about managers & tipping laws

In most cases, managers are not allowed to earn tips since they are salaried employees. But we all know that managers often step in and take care of tables to help servers get out of the weeds. Well-meaning guests will most likely leave a tip, not knowing that the manager technically can’t accept them — so where does that money go?

Kickfin now features a default pool, where tips “paid” to a manager are automatically redistributed to tipped staff based on your restaurant’s tip policy. 

Improved Labor Data Accuracy

We all know how easy it is for an employee to forget to clock out after a long shift. And sure, they aren’t going to get paid for a 16-hour overnight shift, but when payday comes around, those extra hours create a nightmare for your payroll team. 

With Kickfin, all employees are required to be clocked out in order to finalize payments — so you’ll catch the labor data mistake long before your payroll team has to sort it out. 

Even Better Security 

We’re committed to protecting you and your employees’ hard-earned money, so we’re adding an extra layer of security for certain transactions. You can now enable double approval of payments that meet certain conditions:

  • First payment for new employees
  • Employees getting their first payout in X number of days
  • Employees receiving more than X payouts in a 24-hour period. 

With these extra guardrails in place, you can always be sure that the right money is going to the right person. Reach out to our support team to configure your custom security measures.

Using Kickfin is a win-win for operators, managers, and employees alike. Restaurateurs save on cash delivery and labor costs, managers shave hours off their workload, and servers have the same instant payment that they’re used to — without the hassle and uncertainty of cash. 

Want to learn more about Kickfin? Let us show you the ropes with a demo

You heard it here first: 2024 is the year of integrations. 

In an effort to make Kickfin even more user-friendly and adaptable for our partners, we’re working with restaurant tech leaders to integrate our tip management solution with their existing systems. 

First up — Toast! A trailblazer for cloud-based restaurant management technology, Toast is a favorite POS system for restaurants, food trucks, and bars. You probably know them best for being the first to create handheld POS devices, drastically changing the entire restaurant ecosystem. To make life easier for their customers, Toast partnered with Kickfin to create an integration that makes tip pooling, tip distribution, and calculation smoother. 

As restaurant tech innovators ourselves, this partnership is the perfect fit for Kickfin. 

Our goal at Kickfin is always to save time for managers, prevent loss for operators, and create more financial freedom for hospitality employees through pioneering technology that digitizes many of the analog processes that the restaurant industry is built on. 

As a member of the Toast Partner Ecosystem, we’ll be able to deliver our product to Toast customers and modernize their tip management systems with ease. Using technology that they’re already familiar with, Toast customers can reap the benefits of Kickfin with minimal ramp-up upon implementation.

“No two restaurants split tips the same way, but invariably, it takes too long and involves too much risk,”  said Justin Roberts, the co-CEO of Kickfin. “This integration allows for the utmost customization with a near-zero learning curve — truly the best of both worlds for restaurants that want to save time, reduce labor costs and make life easier for their team.”

And one of their partners is already enjoying the ROI with Kickfin. Bar Louie takes great pride in making tip distribution equitable for all of their employees, so they rely on a complex tip pooling system to ensure fair pay. Prior to using Kickfin, managers at each of their 60 locations spent 45 minutes at the end of every shift to make calculations and divvy out funds to all of their servers. Now, they’ve streamlined their tip-out process with Kickfin — and managers are doing the same work in less than a minute! That’s an annual average of 15,000 hours saved across their entire chain. 

>> Hear more Kickfin success stories

After implementing Kickfin, managers can spend their time on what matters most: delivering excellent customer service. That means more table touches, more support for your staff, and more time to focus on server training. 

With managers spending more time on the floor (instead of counting cash in the back), you’ll see better customer reviews, better service, and increased sales — all from digitizing your tip-outs with Kickfin.

We’re excited about our new partnership with Toast and the opportunity to make digital tipping a reality for their customers. For restaurants who aren’t using Toast, don’t worry! We look forward to providing similar integrations across the restaurant tech industry.  

Want to see these results for yourself? Find out how to become a Kickfin integration partner or check out a demo of our platform.

No growing pains here! 

We’re thrilled to announce that Inc. listed Kickfin in their list of the top 10 fastest growing companies in the Southwest. (In fact, we earned the #1 spot in the software category and were listed as #9 overall!) We’re honored to be included alongside innovative companies that are making a big difference in our region. 

Inc. measured Kickfin’s growth from 2020 to 2022 — which wasn’t an easy time for the restaurant industry, to say the least. In spite of the challenges posed by the pandemic, restaurant concepts across the country embraced Kickfin’s technology. 

As a group, the 2024 Inc. honorees averaged 136% growth and created 17,606 new jobs over a two-year period. Individually, Kickfin grew by a whopping 1,304% (yes, really!).

We want to recognize and thank both our amazing customers and the Kickfin team for being part of our success story and allowing us to be a part of theirs. 

Our Customers

For years, restaurants manually calculated and paid out cash tips — despite the increasing hassle and liability those old-school methods entail. It’s not because operators are tech-averse; there simply wasn’t a good way to automate the process that didn’t create new friction or require new workarounds. 

That’s precisely why we developed Kickfin. Of course, we’re proud of what we built and the team behind it (more on that below). But we owe a great deal of our success to the customers who trusted us enough to give Kickfin a shot — especially those early adopters who are now some of our longest-standing customers.

There’s a leap of faith involved when you partner with a vendor and layer in new technology, particularly when it impacts something as important and sensitive as how you pay your people.  We don’t take that lightly, and we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve each and every customer who’s been on this journey with us.

>> Hear from our customers about their experiences with Kickfin

Our Team 

Every person on our team wholeheartedly believes in our mission and vision for the future. In short: we’re here to make the tip management process insanely easy for everyone so that paying out your people is (almost!) as great as getting paid. 

As backstory: Our co-founders, Brian and Justin, came up with the idea for Kickfin while dining out together and noticing that an armored car was dropping off cash. They asked why a restaurant would need a cash delivery when most patrons pay by card; the manager explained the cash was needed to pay out tips at the end of the shift. The inefficiency (and expense, and risk…) of that process was a lightbulb moment for Brian and Justin.

They set out to build a team who not only understood the problem, but could think critically and creatively about a solution — and bring it to life. 

From sales and marketing to product and support, every Kickfin employee has had a hand in the growth and success of our company, thanks to their passion for our purpose and their commitment to being best in class.

We’re proud of what we’ve achieved thus far, and we’re excited to continue collaborating with our customers, innovating on their behalf, and taking Kickfin to the next level together. Onward and upward!

See Kickfin in action!