A Rush of Technology
Self-ordering kiosks, digital menu boards, mobile apps, and other consumer-facing technologies were on full display at the 2023 National Restaurant Association Show. With lower staffing levels remaining a key challenge for operators, solutions that simplify labor-intensive tasks also took center stage at this year’s event.
The digitization of back-of-house operations was evident throughout the show floor. Exhibitors showcase a range of technologies that free up employees to focus on value-added activities that require a human touch. A common refrain from tech providers and operators alike was the idea of leveraging technology not to replace labor, but to optimize labor.
From ordering solutions that transform how guests interact with restaurants to tools that streamline tasks and empower better decision-making, AI is being used to enhance both the customer and employee experience. Unified data platforms and integrated kitchen management systems were top trends throughout the Show’s tech pavilion, alongside smart robots capable of performing a wide range of functions.
PreciTaste Prep Assistant
PreciTaste took home a Kitchen Innovation Award for its AI kitchen management system, which includes the Prep Assistant and Planner Assistant tools.
Prep Assistant uses AI-generated demand predictions to guide crew members on how much to prep per daypart with real-time guidance displayed on different screens across the kitchen. The Planner Assistant computes automated production schedules through point-of-sale data and displays food inventory needs on an hourly basis.
Once one or both of those systems have been installed, restaurants can further evolve their solutions into the Station Assistant, which incorporates vision sensing for even greater automation. The tool improves order accuracy by identifying products as they move throughout the kitchen, alerting crews to inaccuracies as they happen. PreciTaste also showcased a ChatGPT-like customer extension called Chat Assistant, which uses generative AI and large language models to provide a host of operations data.
Bowl Bot and Sandwich Bot
Nala Robotics debuted two fully autonomous, self-cleaning robots that can prepare customized bowls and sandwiches without human intervention. Designed with quick-service restaurants in mind, the latest additions to the company’s growing lineup of robot chefs are compact, easily scalable, and enable restaurants to offer expanded menu items without additional labor costs.
The Bowl Bot prepares bowls with a customizable choice of bases, proteins, and toppings. It’s capable of gripping and controlling sauce bottles while administering food portions with 95 percent accuracy. The Sandwich Bot is designed to make a variety of sandwiches from 48 choices of meats, vegetables, and cheeses.
Toast showcased Toast Tables, a reservation and waitlist management solution that integrates with the company’s robust restaurant technology platform to enable more personalized and efficient hospitality before, during, and between guest visits.
With real-time updates from the point-of-sale and kitchen display systems, a host can see what guests have ordered, when orders have been fulfilled, and when they have paid for the meals. The tool enables hosts to keep servers happy by seating based on built-in-cover counts and “next up” server rotations. It allows restaurants to avoid no-shows thanks to estimated wait times, automated notifications, and two-way SMS messaging, which makes it easy for guests to stay up-to-date and communicate if their plans change. Toast Tables also has a personalized guest profile feature that helps restaurants anticipate preferences, recognize special occasions, reward regulars, and grow their marketing lists.
Lineup.ai leverages the power of predictive analytics to optimize inventory management and employee staffing. The software combines historical sales and demand intelligence data with machine learning algorithms to generate precise forecasts for sales and labor requirements.
What sets Lineup.ai apart is its ability to gather hyperlocal data from various sources, including weather, events, traffic, and holidays. By incorporating that additional layer of forecasting information, the software enables restaurants to make better-informed decisions based on real-time conditions.
PathSpot won a Kitchen Innovation Award for its SafetySuite. The platform offers several solutions that prevent harmful disease transmissions.
The SafetySuite includes the company’s flagship PathSpot HandScanner, which scans employee hands to identify the presence of harmful contamination in just two seconds. Other solutions include PowerLabels, which pairs with printers to create automatic timestamps and expiration dates; PowerTemp, a temperature and humidity logger; and PowerTasks, which provides customizable and assignable task lists. The company also offers a centralized data dashboard that provides access to real-time compliance metrics bundled with corrective actions to take.
Restaurant365 presented a new restaurant intelligence tool called R365 Intelligence. It enables operators to combine various data from emerging technologies such as AI chatbots and self-ordering kiosks with real-time reports and dashboards from Restaurant365’s software, giving them a more complete picture of operations.
SVP of product Mark Calvillo said the tool was designed to provide restaurants with powerful business intelligence capabilities that help optimize productivity and profitability for both the front- and back-of-house. It includes features that make it easy to track metrics like sales per labor hour and entrees per labor hour, helping operators identify trends and make informed decisions around staffing levels, menu offerings, and pricing. The tool is equipped with visualization capabilities for benchmarking performance across locations, concepts, and internal teams.
Consisting of a tablet with a built-in camera and a connected digital scale, Winnow Vision allows kitchens to automatically measure, track, and analyze food waste. The system takes photos of food as it’s thrown away and measures the weight of the items that are wasted. That information is uploaded to the cloud, where it is processed, analyzed, and delivered back to chefs in the form of daily and weekly reports.
Chefs can use the food waste tracking analytics to drive operational improvements and reduce overproduction. CEO Marc Zornes said kitchens that use the tool typically see a 50 percent reduction in food waste within a year and save 3-8 percent in reduced food purchasing costs.
SpotOn unveiled the new SpotOn Restaurant, which combines the company’s point-of-sale software with a suite of hardware, including a new handheld device.
The new mobile point-of-sale tool has an 18 percent larger touchscreen display designed to increase speed of service. It features integrated contactless and dip payments technology, enabling seamless tableside payment with a screen that automatically flips to face the guests. Operators can choose to include a laser scanner for loyalty signs-ups and redemptions. The user interface has also been upgraded to group menu items for easier navigation, enable search, and check table statuses.
Kraft Heinz Co. is giving consumers more freedom to customize their condiments. At the National Restaurant Association Show, the company debuted Heinz Remix, a digital touch screen dispenser that allows restaurant goers to create up to 200 different sauce combinations.
The device lets guests choose from one of four bases, including ketchup, ranch, steak sauce, and barbecue sauce, then select from a variety of enhancers, such as jalapeno, smoky chipotle, and buffalo, which come in a range of intensity levels. The touch screen sauce dispenser will collect data on customer preferences that the company could use when developing future products.
Clover Kitchen Display System
Clover teased the new Clover Kitchen Display System. The product officially debuted in June and is the latest launch from Fiserv, which offers a host of integrated technology solutions, including the Clover point-of-sale and business management platform as well as the BentoBox marketing and commerce platform.
Kitchen staff often are inundated with on-premises and online orders from multiple systems, said Darcy Kurtz, CRO and CMO of BentoBox. The new Clover Kitchen Display System consolidates all order channels into one place. It integrates with the Clover point-of-sale system and both the Clover and BentoBox online ordering systems to provide a “single source of truth” for order management.
The tool provides a real-time look at tickets and key metrics for kitchen staff, with features including multi-level fulfillment, item-level routing, and color-coded order status.