Earlier this year as part of my company’s 10th anniversary, I took some time to reflect on how the foodservice industry and its technology has evolved over the past decade. That served as the perfect backdrop for my visit to the 2019 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago.

Lots of products and people to see, this blog will go over a few notable developments that I and our team saw at the show.

Finally! A supplier developed a product holding unit that allows you to move the pan the product is in to another location within the piece of equipment and transfer with it, the time the product has been in the pan so far.

One multiline foodservice equipment manufacturer displayed an integrated and compact workstation that used vertical and horizontal space to its maximum, allowing functionality in a small space. After seeing this, the best comparison I could make was to an airplane cockpit.

Also on display was a unit that keeps items chilled, then cooks them at the appropriate time before becoming a holding cabinet. Think about the impact such a piece of equipment can have on labor. For example, employees could prep menu items the day before and place them inside the unit and return the next day to serve the food. This saves labor, enhances food safety and more.

Other equipment innovations on display that caught my attention and that of our team include:

  • An ice dispenser that serves two different kinds of ice. This innovation can provide restaurants with two types of ice and two dispensing valves with multiple products to choose from in a smaller space.
  • Self-serve hot hold lockers and automated product pickup spots were prominent, clearly a direct response to the growing opportunity app ordering presents to all kinds of operators.
  • A small steamer that enables on-the-spot, small portion-based steaming of items such as soups and even eggs from an egg mix. This was in the KI Showroom, too.
  • A three-compartment sink that uses sensors to determine water levels and even PH cleanliness measures. This will enable restaurants to make sure their three-compartment sinks actually clean and disinfect wares while reducing the likelihood of getting written up by the health department for having sanitizing water in the unit that does not meet the inspector’s guidelines. Definitely a great quality control tool.
  • Flexible bars that allow operators to serve coffee in the morning and then convert to liquor, beer, wine service in the afternoon and evening hours.
  • There was one piece of cooking equipment that could serve as a griddle, saucepan, braising pan, steamer, pasta cooker, rethermalizer and fryer. Talk about stuffing 10 pounds of functionality into a five-pound bag!
  • Self-serve beer taps dispensers were a bit more prevalent this year than last year.
  • As one would expect, there were also plenty of examples of robotic products, including at least one that was using artificial intelligence.

Speaking of AI, perhaps I should write a follow-up piece on this topic, since this was a big theme at this year’s exhibition. There were many order and pay systems, as have been in prior years, but this time around, many of the suppliers mentioned that the technology was AI driven.

In addition to equipment-oriented developments, there were other technology-related applications that caught our attention, too.

  • A 3D printing machine that adds artistic touches to the lattes and other drinks, using personal images. I can see someone proposing to their girlfriend in the near future using this.
  • A food safety scanner that can detect or screen for several pathogens on the employee’s hands. Employees must wash their hands and then run them under the scanner to ensure they are pathogen-free. Brilliant! Food safety is non-negotiable and this supplier figured out an innovative way to check for pathogens in the hands.
  • Self-serve kiosks remain prevalent but with a twist: more applications of AI.

I could go on and on, since there were so many pieces to talk about, but I will stop now, before I run the risk of boring you.

On to the next challenge in the industry.

See you at the next NRA!