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Innovators get a spotlight during the NRA Show

Five restaurateurs were recognized during the National Restaurant Association’s annual convention for brainstorming innovations that broke new ground in the business.

One winner of the NRA’s Operator Innovation Award had developed an allergy alert system, while another created a cloud-based customized menu tool. A third retrofitted a fast-casual technology system into an operation better known for its entertainment value.

Casual dining chain Ninety Nine Restaurants was recognized in the Food Safety category for the allergy alert system, designed to minimize risk of cross-contamination in both front- and back-of-the-house. The system combines staff training and involvement with clear communications via ordering, display systems and tracking, ensuring awareness and proper preparation for every employee who touches a guest’s food.

“It's vitally important to all our team members that we take our guests' concern with allergies seriously and ensure that their item is free from a specific allergen,” said Ninety Nine’s George Tagarelis. “This system is going to benefit everybody, from mom-and-pop organizations to regional and national chains because the program brings a higher level of attention to a guest's needs when it comes to allergies.”

HMSHost’s “Freedom to Choose” custom online menu tool beat out Taco Bell’s wildly successful Doritos Locos Taco as the innovator in the Menu Development category. The company developed the web portal for its 100+ airport restaurants. It’s designed to give local operators access to hundreds of items, allowing them to quickly and easily tailor and update their menus in tune with traveler preferences, seasonality and regional trends.

At Walt Disney World, the new Be Our Guest Restaurant utilizes a unique fast-casual operational system that automates elements throughout the space, garnering a win for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts in the Technology category.  The system includes RF (radio frequency) table locators, ordering, checkout and back-of-the-house workflow, allowing the restaurant to serve more than 3,000 meals a day while delivering a personalized, hassle-free experience for families.

“These operators have found solutions for their businesses with programs and initiatives that combine creativity and hard work,” said Jeffrey W. Davis, Convention Chair for NRA Show 2013. “The 2013 Operator Innovations Awards winners redefine how the industry views innovation, and will serve as the benchmark for other operators to apply the same innovative spirit within their own operations.”

The awards were presented at the “Destination: Celebration” ceremony, held at Chicago’s Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel on Saturday, May 20.

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