Over the weekend, we took a drive to Chicago to attend the 2016 National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show at McCormick Center. While the free food and massage chairs contributed to an amazing time at the show, let’s face it, the NRA Show is about the equipment. It’s where restaurant operators, and in our case restaurant equipment resellers, go to find the latest gadgets, devices and equipment that will help restaurant’s profits go through the roof. In this post, I will go over some highlights of this year’s show.
Innovation & Technology
While it is a given that the show would focus on innovation and technology, it was surprising as to how this was accomplished by different vendors.
Equipment innovation focused heavily on efficiency, consistency and safety. Knowing that these three factors are among top concerns for restaurant owners and management, several vendors at the show displayed their newest commercial restaurant equipment products that help operators boost profits and avoid calamities.
In the past, the show has hosted its share of attention-getting centerpieces, highlighting robots that make salad, robots that make ice cream sundaes and robots that make French fries. While these are great for larger scale operations, they are not feasible solutions for small, locally owned restaurants, bars and cafes.
However, the show did highlight equipment that can literally change the game in the industry. Equipment this year promised to help operators improve consistency, efficiency and safety. At a time when costs for labor, healthcare and insurance are all going through the roof, such issues were top-of-mind for many of the more than 60,000 attendees who wandered the halls of McCormick Place in Chicago.
Suffice to say, a complete accounting of all the interesting equipment on display is near impossible. But here are a few pieces we found interesting:
It’s safe bet to assume that most operators would prefer not burning their restaurant to the ground. Unfortunately, it isan all too common occurrence within the industry where grease meets heat.
A quarter of restaurant fires originate from the grill. Said Mark Copeland, the chief marketing officer at Mendota Heights, Minn.-based Restaurant Technologies Inc. One problem: The hood and flue above the grill is often coated with grease, sometimes severely so, and if it hasn’t been cleaned recently, the result can be disastrous.
“Once a fire gets into the flue, the fire department stops fighting it,” Copeland said, noting that it’s too dangerous for firefighters to stop those fires.
Back when I worked at Hardee’s in my teen years, I remember how grueling the task of cleaning a hood system can be, and with all the other things that are going on within a restaurant on a daily basis, it is easy to overlook this important task.
Typically, Copeland said, restaurants will periodically employ cleaning companies to clean the hoods and flues of grease, sometimes taking hours to do so. If the cleaning is done during closing, then the restaurant has to pay a manager to stay on. If the restaurant is open 24 hour, it has to close.
Restaurant Technologies’ Auto Mist is designed to prevent these problems. The system automatically cleans the hoods and flues, spraying them with a combination of water and a special cleaner periodically throughout the day from a system of pipes. It then drains into a container that’s emptied at the end of the day.
Restaurant Technologies bought the rights to the device from its investors, one of whom was a restaurant owner who lost his restaurant to a fire from just such a situation, Copeland said.
Central device control was a theme at the show. While much press has focused on customer facing technology, like mobile ordering and app development, some of the most interesting innovations are in equipment.
Rational’s KitchenManagement System is one such innovation. The system is software that enables operators to control up to 30 of Rational’s combi ovens from a central computer.
The system essentially gives chefs and operators a remote control – the system is installed via USB stick – enabling them to prepare cooking sequences and distribute them to all of their appliances at once. That way, the chefs don’t have to program each individual oven.
True Hydrocarbon (R290) Natural Refrigerant Reach-in Refrigerators/Freezers
With growing concern over the environment and emissions damaging the ozone, True Food Service Equipment, Inc. wants to be a part of the solution rather than the problem. At their headquarters in O’Fallon, Missouri, True came up with a solution for environmentally conscious restaurant and hospitality owners.
Combining state-of-the-art compressors and components with all-natural, energy efficient and environmentally friendly HydroCarbon (R290) Natural Refrigerant, these reach-in refrigerators and freezers reduce an operator’s energy consumption substantially, while maintaining food safety and quality, resulting in a lesser environmental impact and improved profit margins.
Most businesses know that marketing is the key to success and growth. However, marketing in general has had a lot of growth in the recent years due to technology and the internet. Now, everywhere one looks marketing in some form is staring right back in his/her face. With that said, there were a ton of marketing solutions vendors at the NRA Show this year, ranging from brand identity and social media management firms, to more innovated services.
Now, business owners are beginning to become overwhelmed when it comes to marketing. Many operators find themselves asking, “What should I use?” and “What should I not waste my time using?” By now, everyone should know that social media is a must, especially when it comes to the food service and hospitality industries. But, many do not know how to execute these mediums and how to engrain them together to create one cohesive brand image and message.
At this year’s show, we found several innovators in this space with cutting edge products that have the potential to increase web and foot traffic for the food service & hospitality industries and beyond.
Here are just a couple we found most intriguing:
Insight 360 Marketing
Insight 360 Marketing is a digital marketing firm based out of Washington DC that specializes in mobile marketing solutions. While they offer the gambit of mobile marketing solutions that many of us are already familiar with such as social media and mobile application development, they have taken this concept to the next level.
Insight 360 Marketing offers a do-it-yourself option for creating a mobile application through their web application at www.mobile360.co . There, you can start from scratch, use a template or let their design team create your mobile app. The features and integrations offered include: social media, reservations, maps, push notifications, loyalty, coupons, events, videos, email marketing, geofencing and much more.
While all of that is great, it is by far not the best of what Insight 360 Marketing has to offer. This is where Google Street View comes in. I’m sure you are familiar with how Google Street View works, but if you are not, it is an application in which Google cars with 360 degree cameras drive around taking photos while doing so, the end product results in the ability of the user to go on a virtual tour of a city or town.
What Insight 360 Marketing has done is make it so that businesses can use this technology and service to their advantage. Businesses can showcase their location on Google through virtual tours to display the ambiance and grow business. Many restaurant customers are likely to try a new restaurant because of the ambiance and hotel customer usually choose a location off of this basis alone.
For more information, visit www.insight360marketing.com
While there were many different marketing firms and advertising agencies vying for the attention of restaurant owners at the show, Undivided stood out to me the most. The reason for this is because it is an agency that is solely devoted to restaurants.
They are a division of SecretPenguin, a leading experiential branding agency with a vast background ranging from campaigns with the NFL, trend reports for the White House, and branding for legendary skateboarders such as Christian Hoser.
You can find more information about Undivided on their website at undivided.agency or by texting “BRAND” to 402-670-1957
We had a great time at the 2016 NRA Show and hope to see you all there next year! Until then, remember, we offer the largest inventory of new and pre-owned commercial restaurant equipment, furnishings and supplies in the Midwest. If you need anything for your commercial kitchen, please feel free to contact us or stop by our showroom.