From hand-sanitizing handles to automated food artists: The NRA show that was
From little things you never think about like a hand-sanitizing restroom handle and near-instant iced coffee makers to higher-ticket tech like 3D food printers and super smoke-sucking range hoods, the technological innovations that filled Chicago's McCormick Place Convention Center during the NRA show seemed infinite. It's the kind of wild display of gadgetry that may be one of the best testaments to this planet's ample supply of creative thinkers — a two-mile-long parade of innovation.
And while this reporter is not about to claim she covered all of that ground, I did burn up some of the show's seemingly impervious blue carpeting in an attempt to see some gadgetry this year. Here are but a thimble-full of the items I saw.
Apologies for the thousands I missed, but please tweet us a picture @QSRweb and share it with our readers and your best short description. That way we can literally make the show go on. Until then, check out some of these innovations.
Automated food artistry in 3D
There are probably still people standing at this booth in Chicago under the hypnotic effect of watching these electrified artists of the edible do their thing.
The latest generation of the 3D Food Printing Systems Procusini offers "small batch series production" and a new assortment of foods which can be modeled in a trio of dimensions, including four colors of pasta. The production area is twice its former size with a 9.8- by 5.9-inch work surface allowing for more than 80 filigreed Choco-objects in one working step.
This was the company's first U.S. public showing of the printers designed especially for catering and event-gastronomy to create logo-branded and event-specific foods including pasta, chocolate, marzipan or fondant.
Broadcasting your brand's 'greatness'
LevelUp's Broadcast guest engagement platform — though not actually a broadcast channel — does manage to "broadcast" to huge consumer audiences allowing them to browse live menus, order ahead and pay for orders directly from Facebook, Messenger, Yelp, Foursquare, Amazon Alexa and Android Pay. Essentially, this technology plunks the restaurant brand down right in front of customers and potential customers where they already are — online and on social media.
LevelUp execs said the approach works because consumers now are really turning to their social and digital channels for everything from chatting with friends to mapping the best route to destinations or looking for a place to eat.
Togo's is one brand that is putting the platform to good use.
"As Togo's expands throughout the West Coast, LevelUp Broadcast has the reach and capabilities to help us build sales with more order ahead guests who spend more and come back more often," Togo's Senior Vice President of Marketing Anna Neros said in a news release.
LevelUp said its findings show customers spend up to 50 percent more on digital orders than when ordering in-restaurant or by phone, meaning Broadcast grabs the attention of a higher-ticket customer. The company provides engagement, ordering and loyalty solutions for more than 200 national and regional brands and over 10 million customers.
Using a BigZpoon to scoop up food waste, generate revenue
Restaurateurs understand the huge problem of wasted food, particularly in so-called "first-world" countries, but a young Silicon Valley startup showed off a cloud-based mobile app platform that helps QSRs cut down on food waste while also generating more revenue.
BigZpoon was among 14 startups selected for this year's Startup Alley section. The judging panel said the company's product not only helped operators manage daily business operations more smoothly but also helps them become more profitable.
BigZpoon Founders Sanjeev Ukhalkar and Cem Yildirim said that just in the U.S., $165 billion worth of food is thrown away annually with 40 percent coming from restaurants. As a location-based, online food ordering system, operators can post their surplus dishes on the mobile app, which are priced based on current supply and demand and pitched to target customers in under 60 seconds via text, push notifications or email. Customers then buy before the food's expiration through their mobile devices and pick up the bargain at the participating restaurant.
"The end result of all of this is food that would otherwise have been thrown into the dumpster has landed into the hands of a happy customer," BigZpoon COO CEM Yildirim said. "What's more, the restaurant made some additional revenue, and the entire community benefits from less garbage in the landfills."
The IOS and Android apps are live in San Francisco with planned expansion nationally and globally.
A restroom handle that sanitizes hands
Altitude Medical's OpenClean Technologies showed off a device that actually sanitizes hands as guests and employees leave the restroom. The PullClean sanitizing doorhandle — made for push multi-stall restrooms — and the TurnClean sanitizing doorhandle — designed for locked single-stall restrooms — assist with a critical food safety component: hand hygiene.
The company's CountClean technology offers real-time remote monitoring for hand-sanitizing compliance in restaurants and virtually all public restrooms, after initial introduction in hospitals, the company said.
The aluminum-based devices put hand sanitization right on the door handle, dispensing moisturizing hand sanitizer as people open doors. The company said its installed devices have already racked up more than 5.5 million uses.
"It is amazing to watch the faces of employees of a ... restaurant, leaving the restroom after experiencing our OpenClean system" OpenClean CEO Ray Dunning, said. "Every day we see a restaurant employee or hotel guest walk up to the manager and thank them for caring about hand hygiene and their health, particularly during flu season."
The refillable devices have been shown to knock out 99.99 percent of most common germs and have been shown to substantially increase hand sanitization rates, Dunning said. The handles also include real-time monitoring systems that allow users to sanitize their hands as they leave the restroom.
Grease-sucking range hoods
Combi-steamer tech maker, Rational USA launched new recirculating range hoods that leave kitchens virtually steam-, smoke- and grease-free. UltraVent and UltraVent Plus recirculating hoods for two of the company's SelfCookingCenter models are designed for open kitchens, according to the company.
At the show, the company drew a crowd with some production areas that not only showed off its latest commercial cooking innovations but also gave restaurateurs an idea how the recirculating hoods do their cleaning through a pop-up restaurant and cooking show.
Additionally, Rational's ConnectedCooking and innovation alley demonstrated some of its most advanced cloud-based networking solution for professional kitchens that actually let operators manage kitchens from their phones.
Ice-ifying coffee at high-speed
Finally, the popularity of a hot cup of java is clear with the popularity of brands like Starbucks, but that chain and many others are seeing an increased demand for iced coffee. It's hard to ice beverage in the restaurant environment, however, in a manner that is quick enough to meet customer demand and without also diluting a drink's flavor.
Enter HyperChiller that turns any drink into a cold and frosty one in as little as 60 seconds, according to the company. Its device is like zapping 30 large ice cubes into your beverage, only in this case the gadget's two layers of food-grade stainless steel prevent the dilution you get with ice cubes as they cool.
The device is compatible with all brewing methods and even fits directly into most full-size single-cup brewers and has a new version that was just introduced this month.
Feature photo: iStock
Other photos: Provided
Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.