7 discoveries from the restaurant industry’s global gathering


The world may seem to be getting smaller, but the complexity of feeding it is a far different matter, judging from the first two days of the Global Restaurant Leadership Conference, a gathering of about 1,400 restaurant industry leaders from 46 countries. Presenters addressed the complexities, opportunities and challenges confronting operators as they grow beyond their homelands, eager to capture more of what Technomic, the Chicago researcher, pegged as a $3.3 trillion worldwide foodservice market.

The GRLC is presented by Winsight, the parent company of Technomic and Restaurant Business. Here’s a sampling of the insights that were aired during the start of the four-day event.

  1. A sales wave

47% of consumers visit a restaurant at least once a week just for a beverage, according to Technomic, which kicked off the conference with a statistical snapshot of the global restaurant market. The lowest incidence of beverage-only purchases is in Germany, and the highest is in Colombia and India. 

  1. Consumers want beverage upgrades, even at a higher price

Consumers are eager to indulge in a higher caliber of beverages, providing a worldwide opportunity for restaurants, according to Joe Pawlak, managing principal of Technomic. He noted that McDonald’s is testing custom beverage prep by baristas, a la Starbucks, in a few units in the United States. Globally, “we’re seeing a lot of higher quality that people are willing to pay more for,” said Pawlak.

  1. Snacking without borders

Snacking is booming on a planet-wide basis, with 44% of all consumers indulging in a between-meal food or beverage more than once a day, up from 41% in 2017, Technomic noted for attendees. “What we believe what this represents for restaurants is opportunity,” said David Henkes, senior principal of Technomic.  The only place where noshing is not a norm is France, he noted, also pointing out that the United States is still where snacking is most prevalent and engrained.

  1. Some old ways survive, if not thrive

Three out of four restaurant-delivery customers in the United Arab Emirates, a nation far ahead of the United States in embracing delivery, still prefer to place their orders by calling the source restaurant, Technomic found in its deep dive into that market. 

  1. Get ready—fast—for augmented reality

Augmented reality, not blockchain or artificial intelligence, is likely to be “the next big thing” for restaurants, said Rick Caron, chief innovation officer for Welbilt Corp. He recounted eating a Quarter Pounder at a McDonald’s in Asia when he noticed a QR code on the packaging. When he scanned it with a smartphone, Caron said, he was “transported” to a ranch in Australia that was the source of the beef in his burger.  “It’s the next big thing like the smartphone,” he said by way of explaining the expected scale.

  1. Disruption in the back-of-house

The future is remaking kitchen equipment today, with downsizing, versatility, high speeds, data collection and integration already ranking as essential features, Caron said. “If you’re buying equipment today and it doesn’t have connectivity, it’s going to be a dinosaur tomorrow,” he commented. 

  1. What’s following the microwave

The next big advance in high-speed cooking will be radio-wave heating, Caron predicted. The principle behind the technology is similar to what happens in a microwave—magnetic waves producing heat by causing water molecules to vibrate—but the form of the waves is different and more manageable, he explained. For that reason, different types of foods can be cooked in a radio-wave device to different temperatures at the same time. “This is just at the gate. It will be impacting our business in the next few years,” Caron said. 

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