For Chicago area restaurant owners, it could be a year of incredible growth and networking, thanks to the wealth of restaurant events the Windy City offers.
Whether you already live and work in the Chicago area, or you’re eyeing the city for a networking trip in 2019, the year will offer tons of events where chefs and restaurateurs can work together, grow their skills and learn about the latest and greatest in restaurant trends and top cuisine.
Who knows, you might find amazing staff, new loyal guests, a helpful new delivery app, or a reliable new supplier at one of these events.
Here’s a list of events that restaurateurs and other industry professionals should keep on the radar this year, whether as a visitor or as a vendor.
When: Jan. 25 to Feb. 7, 2019
Where: More than 390 restaurants all over the city and surrounding suburbs
Why go? 2019 promises Chicago’s largest restaurant week ever, with nearly 400 local restaurants, in both the city and the suburbs, dishing up special prix fixe menus. More than 100 of these restaurants are first-time participants. If your restaurant isn’t participating, your first step is to sign up for Restaurant Week 2020. Then, use this time to get out and try your competition, or to network with the hundreds of other chefs who are participating. While it may be too late to join this year’s restaurant week as a vendor, it still poses a great opportunity to check out what other restaurants are doing and take some notes for next year.
When: Feb. 4-5, 2019
Where: The Westin, Chicago River North
Why go? The American Food Innovate Summit is all about innovating in the food industry, from cutting edge ingredients to new and future trends in consumer behavior and buying patterns. This is one of the best times to be in Chicago to learn tips and tricks that will help your restaurant succeed well into the future. Get yourself signed up right here.
Chicago Food Policy Summit
When: Feb. 15, 2019
Where: South Shore Cultural Center
Why go? No matter your role in the food industry, local and national policy affect you. After Cook County’s passage of the Good Food Purchasing Policy, this year’s summit promises to be one with plenty of opportunity to learn about local laws affecting food service workers, from chefs and owners all the way to hosts and dishwashers.
When: Feb. 20, 2019
Where: Union League Club Chicago
Why go? If you’re a restaurant owner or manager in the Chicago area and you don’t belong to the Illinois Restaurant Association, what are you waiting for? This is one of the best ways to network with other food industry professionals, and the annual meeting and luncheon is a perfect intro for new members.
When: Feb. 24-26, 2019
Where: The Hilton, Chicago
Why go? For pastry chefs looking to learn the most cutting edge skills and techniques in baking, Chicago’s BakingTech Conference is the place to be in 2019. Speakers include executives from Pepperidge Farm, ADM Milling Company, Lesaffre Yeast Corporation and more. The BakingTech Marketplace will include product and technique demonstrations as well as opportunities to showcase your own talents, should you decide to secure a vendor space (it’s not too late - regular registration is available until February 16th).
When: Mar. 22-23, 2019
Where: UIC Forum
Why go? Today’s consumers want sustainable, ethically sourced and natural ingredients in their food. One of the best places you can learn how to give them that is the Good Food Expo, a national leader in the Good Food Movement, which strives to create local, sustainable food systems. This two-day trade show will give chefs and restaurant owners the knowledge and tools to make their supply chains and menus healthier, more local and more sustainable by working together with food producers, vendors, wholesalers and more.
When: May 6-9, 2019
Where: Donald E. Stephens Convention Center
Why go? A foodborne illness outbreak or similar food safety disaster is every restaurant owner’s worst nightmare. The Food Safety Summit Conference and Expo is where food industry professionals can learn about the latest in food safety legislation, supply chain best practices and more. The best way to avoid a food safety disaster at your restaurant is by having a plan, and this summit can help you develop one and put it in place.
When: May 18-21, 2019
Where: McCormick Place
Why go? Ringing in its 100th Year, the National Restaurant Association Show 2019 is calling all restaurateurs looking to, in their words, “get inspired and stay relevant.” If that sounds like two things you’d enjoy when it comes to your restaurant, we’d suggest checking out this centennial celebration in Chicago this May. While you’re there—check out The American Food Fair—billed as the “largest food service marketplace in the western hemisphere.” What better place to network, share skills, make purchases and learn about the newest and best food service trends?
When: July 10-15, 2019
Where: Grant Park
Why go? More than 35 years running, Taste of Chicago is one of the city’s oldest and most popular Chicago festivals. Chefs, restaurants and food trucks will have the opportunity to get their wares in front of 1.4 million Chicagoans who flock to Grant Park for live music, arts and tons of food. It’s a great way to gain some new customers for your restaurant, or, if you haven’t signed up for a vendor spot, to check out what’s new on Chicago’s food scene.
When: Sept. 27, 2019
Where: Harris Theater Rooftop
Why go? The annual Hamburger Hop kicks off the Chicago Gourmet weekend with two things any good chef loves: burgers and competition. If your restaurant grills up a delicious burger, you can enter this year’s contest to vie for the Judge’s Award or the People’s Choice Award, either of which is prestigious enough to get some new guests in your doors.
When: Sept. 27-29, 2019
Where: Millenium Park
Why go? Once the Hamburger Hop is done, it’s time for Chicago Gourmet, a premiere event for the areas chefs and restaurateurs. Onstage at Millenium Park, local legends cook and take questions. The Great Lawn is filled with tents where local chefs can entice foodies with their top recipes — or experiment with new ones. At two seminar spots, you can take a class, or teach one. Chicago Gourmet is where top chefs go to teach, learn and network with the area’s food industry best.
If you believe in the idea that your “network is your net worth,” then get yourself out to these restaurant events in 2019.
Being a part of a broader culinary community is a great way for restaurant owners to stay on top of new trends, find the best talent, and build a name for their brand.
Enticed and now planning your next trip to Chicago?
Don’t forget about “Summertime Chi”—when the weather warms up and Chicagoans hit the streets for tons of culinary outdoor festivals. From the Windy City Smokeout to the Lincoln Park Greek Fest, you can’t go wrong with planting yourself in Chicago this summer.