5 under-the-radar tech products at the National Restaurant Association Show

These unique finds have not yet been widely adopted, but they could provide a glimpse of what's coming around the bend for restaurants.
Show crowd
A crowd heads for the Show floor on Monday. / Photograph by Oscar & Associates

Technology suppliers take up a lot of real estate at the National Restaurant Association Show. But spend enough time browsing the booths, and you're likely to catch a case of deja vu. (How are there this many POS companies?) 

That said, tech is tech, and fresh ideas abound amid the monotony. As we made our way around the big event in Chicago this week, these five products stood out as unique and potentially impactful, if not yet widely adopted. Together, they provide a glimpse of what could be coming around the bend for restaurants.

Dynamic menus

What if a restaurant’s menu changed based on who was looking at it? That’s the premise of new technology from digital signage company Raydiant and the recently acquired SightCorp, which uses cameras and artificial intelligence to analyze people’s faces.

Here’s one way the partnership could work: A customer walks up to a self-ordering kiosk that is outfitted with a camera. The camera, using SightCorp’s software, identifies the customer as a man, and the menu changes to show items men tend to order—in this case, burgers and chicken sandwiches.

That’s a rudimentary example, but the tool could also be used to detect age, attention and even mood, and serve up menu selections to match. 

Indoor-outdoor pickup

Apex, a maker of high-tech pickup cabinets, has a new prototype that can be built into the exterior of a restaurant so guests can grab their food without setting foot inside. Employees load the cubbies from inside the restaurant, and the customer can access their meal by entering a unique code. An Apex rep said restaurants are now looking at its cabinets as a way to ease congestion caused by delivery drivers grabbing orders.

Apex pickup cabinet

Apex's new order pickup cabinet. / Photograph by Joe Guszkowski

Dynamic pricing

Anyone who has ever taken an Uber is familiar with the concept of dynamic pricing: When a lot of people are ordering rides, the cost of yours goes up. Sauce, a 2-year-old startup founded by MIT grads, wants to bring this strategy to the restaurant industry. It uses third-party delivery data to determine customer demand and automatically adjusts a restaurant’s online menu prices accordingly, with the goal of boosting orders and sales. It’s specifically focused on delivery, and many of its current clients are virtual brands, said CEO and co-founder Colin Webb.

AI-assisted checkout

Grubbrr, a maker of self-ordering kiosks for restaurants, was showing off a new self-checkout system for retailers. Described as a poor man’s Amazon Go, the system uses a camera and AI to identify each item a customer is buying. A Grubbrr rep said it clocks products accurately about 95% of the time. If it can’t ID something, the customer can look it up manually. 

Grubbrr self-checkout

Grubbr's self-checkout system. / Photograph by Joe Guszkowski

Table-turning tech

The idea behind Let Us Nudge is right in the name: Restaurants can use the app to “nudge” guests to do things. If a restaurant is busy, the operator can use it to offer guests a discount if they leave before a predetermined time, helping to turn tables faster. And if it’s a slow night, a restaurant can nudge customers with a promotion that might entice them to come in. Let Us Nudge currently works with more than a dozen family-owned sit-down restaurants and is in test with Nathan’s Famous.

UPDATE: A previous version of this story said that Raydiant's dynamic menu technology was in use at Wahlburger's. The tech is "not fully rolled out in any Wahlburger's stores," according to a Raydiant representative. 

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