Blog Post / June 3, 2019 / Restaurant Industry

2019 NRA Show Recap: What Restaurant Industry Trends Are Heating Up

by Bianca McLaren
Bianca McLaren

This year, over 45,000 people streamed into McCormick Place in Chicago to explore the latest and greatest restaurant and foodservice industry trends -- from equipment and supplies to food & beverage and technology -- during the 100th anniversary of the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show. And with over 2,300 exhibitors across more than 900 product categories, there was a lot of ground to cover during the four days of the show.

Read on for a recap of some of the big trends we saw at NRA Show this year.

Voice Technology Comes To Restaurants

Allison Page on stage for NRA Show’s SuperSession | Credit: Winsight

During the “Future of Restaurants” SuperSession on Monday, May 20, SevenRooms’ Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder Allison Page debuted the first Amazon Alexa skill for restaurant operators -- enabling more proactive in-service experiences using data. From ‘Alexa, who’s sitting at Table 7?’ and ‘Alexa, how are we doing tonight?’ to ‘Alexa, comp champagne for Alex Snow,’ this in-service tool uses voice commands to make technology invisible, enabling operators to access important guest data without having to look at a device.

The applications of this technology are limited only by the sound of your voice, giving operators the tools they need to personalize the guest experience while on the go, and using that data to drive loyalty for years to come. As Allison said during the SuperSession, “Technology, the very thing we are afraid of sitting between us and our guests, might be the very thing that brings us closer together.” Check out the live demo here.

Food Safety Takes Centerstage

PathSpots hand scanner | Credit: PathSpot

In a study, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service stated that handwashing is done improperly 97% of the time. And in a time where food safety issues are being talked about more than ever -- how can anyone forget Chipotle’s bacteria-borne struggles -- this issue was front and center at NRA Show this year.

Enter PathSpot, a hand scanner that instantly detects invisible signs of bacteria and viruses that cause foodborne illness. The concept is simple, with employees simply placing their hands below the scanner, and within seconds, being told whether they or not they have bacteria -- like E.coli, Listeria, Salmonella or Norovirus -- on their hands. Intended to be used as a way to train employees on proper food safety practices, we can expect this technology to get rolled out in restaurants across the U.S. in the near future.

Sustainable is the Name of the Game

Tomato-based Ahimi ‘tuna’ | Credit: Ocean Hugger Foods

From noodles made from Alaska Pollock and ‘bleeding’ plant-based burgers, to ‘tuna’ created from tomatoes, sustainable protein-alternatives were popular at this year’s show. And while sustainable plant-based products like these are ultimately better for the environment, they can also be a big boost on a restaurants bottom line. The diners of today care about the environment, and want their favorite restaurants to incorporate sustainable food practices into their businesses. Incorporating sustainable products into your business can not only lead to more visits in the future, but could open up your restaurant to a new audience of diners. We’re already seeing this trend take off at restaurants around NYC, and it is quickly expanding nationwide.

But these foods weren’t the only sustainable products debuted at NRA Show. This year, more brands than ever debuted eco-friendly items -- from compostable straws to reusable containers. These included:

Labor Issues Hit Restaurants Hard

Flippy the Robot | Credit: Miso Robotics

With a rise in labor costs and historically low unemployment rates, restaurants are starting to feel the pain when it comes to hiring and retention.

According to a study by TDn2K, the average cost of turnover per restaurant manager is $13,867, with even an hourly employee costing a restaurant upwards of $3,500 in turnover costs. This is a huge number when you realize that the restaurant employee turnover rate sits around 73%.

Many companies during NRA Show addressed ways to retain employees and combat rising labor costs, from improving training, to incorporating more automation. Here are the key things that stood out for us.

Flippy, the brainchild of Miso Robotics and the world’s first autonomous cooking assistant, joined the stage at ‘The Future of Restaurants’ SuperSession, using a combination of machine learning and AI to make real-time decisions while cooking food. The product aims to help alleviate the hiring pinch for back-of-house workers.

On a panel discussing technology solution overload in restaurants, Kelly Esten, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Toast, stated that the number one issue facing restaurants is labor. During NRA Show, Toast launched their first restaurant payroll and team management product to help save time and streamline operations, and have existing tools like Toast Go that help restaurant operators make their existing labor force more productive.  

Sonic Drive-In is partnering with Mastercard and Zivelo to bring AI assistants to the drive-thru lane, helping to improve the ordering experience for guests, and, as a byproduct, reducing the number of personnel needed at the quick-serve restaurant.

All in all, NRA Show this year was full of incredible innovations and forward-thinking technology that will impact the restaurant industry in the years to come. Didn’t make it to the show this year? Don’t sweat! We’ll see you next year at McCormick Place May 16-19, 2020.

Want to learn more about SevenRooms and our new Alexa-powered voice technology? Reach out to request a demo today.

About the Author

Bianca McLaren

Bianca McLaren is the Senior Manager, Brand Marketing at SevenRooms, where she heads up brand awareness, communications and event programming. Based at New York HQ, she's always on the hunt for the best sushi in the city.

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