Food and service have always been the stars of any restaurant, but it’s what happens behind the scenes that helps keep operations humming and in the black. Technology that drives many of those efficiencies and capabilities is taking on an even bigger role, which is something exhibits at the National Restaurant Association Show make clear.
Companies displaying products in Startup Alley provided a preview of next-generation solutions to many of the concerns and opportunities operators face.
Say2eat, for example, is a one-stop ordering solution that allows customers to order meals through Facebook Messenger. Meant as an alternative to mobile apps, it connects restaurant clients to Facebook, a platform used by more than 168 million consumers in the United States. Say2eat also captures customer information and can help restaurants leverage that data to promote even more sales. Because it’s mobile-based, open rates are higher than websites or emails.
AmbiFi, a training and management platform, allows operators to build and distribute knowledge in the form of photos, videos, forms and other media, to keep their teams performing at a high level. AmbiFi also allows on-the-job support in the form of instant help for menu preparation or other tasks.
Delivery is a costly and increasingly necessary element of running a restaurant. Startup Synk aims to provide a lower-cost alternative to third-party delivery. Using Google mapping, the software allows restaurants to keep deliveries in-house by creating efficiencies in the delivery process and offering some of the same features that large chains offer, including notifications to customers.
PathSpot, a hand scanner, instantly detects indicators of bacteria and viruses that cause foodborne illness, including norovirus, E. coli, listeria, hepatitis A and salmonella. It provides actionable results in two seconds and can track team and individual results.
Robots are just starting to make inroads in foodservice, mainly in the back of house. This year, BearRobotics brought Penny, a self-driving robot, to the show, where it was on display as a Kitchen Innovations award winner. Penny is designed to deliver food and drink orders and bus tables. Swappable trays allow the different functions, and multiple Penny units can be programmed to work simultaneously and efficiently without extra monitoring.
Sally the Robot, another Kitchen Innovation award winner, is an automated unit that prepares customizable salads, yogurt bowls, grain bowls, and snacks using sophisticated robotics and algorithms to dispense accurate portions of hundreds of different ingredients. It’s a solution designed for the demands of 24/7 operations.
Google Glass applications, virtual reality and other innovations designed for training and quality control were also evident on the show floor. A variety of equipment on display combined functionality and tech features to target labor efficiency. For instance, Jevo, an automated gelatin shot machine, promises to produce gelatin shots in a fraction of the time it would take to do so manually. It tracks product usage and automatically reorders when supplies are low.
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