Once again, I’ve taken one for the team and walked the floor at the National Restaurant Association show (yes, that NRA; sorry Mr. Nugent).
In addition to things I reported on last year, there are some exciting new offerings.
Because there’s so much cool stuff, I’ve separated my Top 10 list into #6-10 (today’s post) and Top 5 (coming soon). So here we go.
[NOTE: as always, all links and photos are live: click on them to learn more]
Observation 10. Tea! Tea! More Tea! – as you may recall, tea was originally introduced at the 3000 B.C. NRA show (held outdoors in Wrigley Field).
The news this year is that every time you turned around you bumped into another tea purveyor trying to look old and mystical and yet hip at the same time. (sort of like Cher? Keith Richards?) Dozens of them. Perhaps it’s an echo effect from Starbucks’s Teavana venture. Or maybe they’ve been there all along and I’m just noticing. At any rate, hot or cold, flavored or straight, Oprah’s Chai Latte or not, prepare to be offered tea more and more often.
Observation 9. Greater Sales through Big Data. Have you heard this term before: ‘big data’? Of course you have. Not to be confused with ‘Satisfying Customers through Big Data‘ (more on that later). The restaurant business is increasingly swimming in POS data, and LOTS of companies are trying to use it to help restaurants pry every last dollar from your wallet.
Essentially it comes down to driving traffic, increasing loyalty, up-selling, and above all, getting you to buy more high-margin beverages. You out there, experimenting with different restaurants and learning about different food cultures? Well, STOP IT! Do you want to be just average, or do you want to be LOYAL? Yes, a restaurant-centric, not consumer-centric way of looking at things.
One loyalty company called Paytronix allows operators to send geofenced messages (it is what it sounds like), lets them pay for food with their phones, and more. Just when we thought our ability to actually communicate with each other couldn’t get any worse, there are now even more distractions available.
Paytronix also models guest behavior to project potential high-value customers and nurture them. Which of course sounds familiar, since the casinos have been doing it for years. Except you will never be comped drinks and a hotel room in a restaurant.
Observation 8. Responsible/Local Sourcing – Whether it’s produce, protein or grains, where food comes from is increasingly getting attention. However, it’s one thing to say it, quite another to do it on a meaningful scale. As Chipotle found out recently when they faced a shortage of ‘responsibly raised beef’, reducing your supply options means the margin for error shrinks as well.
Observation 7. Mobile to help back office. Could there be a less sexy title? Doubtful. The point here is rather than ‘mobile’ being a buzzword but not really ready for primetime, Mobile is starting to be leveraged in a way totally relevant to the frenetic nature of hospitality.
One startup, Partender, has developed a mobile app to get real-time inventory updates for the bar area. In the bar business, making money is a lot about tightly controlling inventory to keep service levels high, while making as much cash available for the important stuff: hiring trick bartenders like Tom Cruise.
Seriously, I saw this app at work and it is slick, intuitive, and totally appropriate for the use. When inventory is sitting on the shelves, it’s hard to input with a fixed desktop or laptop. Mobile is increasingly adding real value where it makes sense..
Observation 6. Plant-Based Dinnerware – compostable products have been around a while; this year there were more products that were plant-based. Specifically, companies like World Centric and Vegware offer tableware, utensils, napkins, hot/cold cups, to-go packages and more made from things like sugar cane, wheat straw, and corn. As volume increases, costs will come down and you’ll see more of this approach.
…But wait – – Now you can also get utensils that you can not only eat with, but that you can EAT. Foodie Spoon offers a selection of different serving shapes (spoons, cones, shapes) that you can put stuff on, and then eat the whole thing. Think of a mini-me taco.
So next time you’re at a party and a waiter offers you an elegant canapé on a spoon, amaze your friends and chomp the whole thing down. (But maybe check first.)
THAT’S IT FOR OBSERVATIONS 6-10. COMING SOON: THE TOP 5, which promises to be even more exciting.
In the meantime, a few bonus experiences from the show: