Observations from the 2019 National Restaurant Association Show

By: Vanessa Foden, Chief of Staff to the VP and GM of the Retail Banking, Hospitality & Education at Intel

The 2019 National Restaurant Association Show celebrated 100 years of showcasing restaurant solutions.  Over the years, the international presence at the show has increased and the 2019 show had an attendance of over 43,000 restaurant industry executives.  I personally have been attending the show since 2012.   When I attended NRA for the first time it was immediately obvious that this show had a much broader focus than a typical restaurant information technology trade show.  NRA blends restaurant business solutions for cooking, appliances and furniture, food and drink choices along with the latest technologies for restaurants.  

The show is organized into several distinct ‘areas.’  The Kitchen Awards Innovation area showcased new technology solutions for the kitchen, such as automating food retrieval and automated sink solutions.  Most of the solutions exhibited in this area were environmentally sustainable and increased the efficiencies in a restaurant or kitchen to allow employees to focus on more important tasks in the kitchen.  One of the Innovation winners SinkTech, had a solution which automated the sink in a restaurant or bar while being environmentally friendly by saving on the usage soap and water.  The Start Up Alley area included web platform and voice AI technologies solutions for ordering.  Throughout the entire show multiple booths had the tag lines on innovation, connectivity and IOT – and highlighted several trends in the marketplace, such as delivery solutions for consumers and sustainable options for food sourcing and containers and straws.  

There were a few technology solutions that I thought did a good job meeting the consumer needs while keeping costs at a reasonable level for restaurateurs.    The HP’s Engage One all-in-one POS hardware platform was displayed as both a self-check-in solution and a POS solution, highlighting how POS today can connect to online orders to help drive out the cost of 3rd party ordering solutions. Fingermark displayed a double-sided ordering kiosk and drive through menu board solutions that helps restaurateurs facilitate self-ordering.  The Zivelo Wayfinding and Cineplex digital menu boards businesses can also be utilized technology to drive efficiencies, increase brand awareness and marketing while creating revenue opportunities for QSR and traditional restaurants.

One area that I anticipate will continue to have increasing focus is blockchain. Blockchain is a digital ledger, where a digitized record of data is created and added to by its members.  While most people are familiar with how blockchain can be used for digital currency, blockchain technology can also be applied to the food industry to increase efficiency, transparency and collaboration throughout the food system. For example, consumers could be able to trace the source of their lettuce back to a grower and field in seconds. Shippers could see if a truck is full before they schedule a delivery. Grocery stores could verify if a carton of eggs is actually cage-free. If a consumer gets sick, government investigators will have a head start on the investigation by being able to get to the source of tainted beef within seconds rather than chasing a paper trail for days.   As the understanding of food sources becomes a key focus for restaurant brands and food borne illnesses are on the rise, blockchain usage is predicted to continue to grow in demand.  I attended a session on Supply Chain traceability by Fogo De Chao where the presenter discussed how the use of blockchain in our food supply can be powerful, affordable and accessible.  I could not agree more with this observation.