From wobbly table fixes to herbal refrigerators, innovation was on display at NRA (Part 1)

| by Cherryh Cansler
From wobbly table fixes to herbal refrigerators, innovation was on display at NRA (Part 1)

Middleby's microgreen and herb-growing cabinet garners a lot of attention from show visitors.

More than 45,000 buyers in the restaurant industry hit Chicago this week to check out the thousands of products and services on display at the National Restaurant Association show. Many companies use the show as a platform to launch new products. Keep in mind this show takes place in North America's largest convention center, which is two miles long from end to end, according to one employee.

See below for a roundup of several gadgets, products and services designed to make running a restaurant easier and more profitable.

Apex Supply Chain launches mobile pick-up solution

Apex Supply Chain has created a way to help restaurateurs deliver mobile orders to in-store customers with its AnyWhere Flow-Thru Lockers. The automated, self-serve solution makes order pick-up as easy as the order placement and payment processes, according to a company press release.

By the end of 2017, research predicts mobile order and pay programs will be available at more than half the QSR locations across North America. As as a result, mobile order pick-up service is inefficient, requiring multiple employee touches and often leaving customers unsure of exactly how to retrieve their orders. This all leads to congestion and line anxiety when it combines with in-store customer traffic. Often customers may end up avoiding the store altogether if they see a line, said Kent Savage, founder and  CEO of Apex Supply Chain Technologies

"No mobile order and pay program has addressed order pick-up effectively until now," he said. "Our solution is the first of its kind to provide a convenient, automated way to efficiently handle the additional traffic from mobile order and pay apps in a way that doesn't create more work for employees or frustration for customers."

HAVI launches prescriptive marketing platform

HAVI launched a prescriptive marketing platform built specifically for the restaurant industry that incorporates real-time analytics to help marketers more effectively plan their campaigns, according to a company press release. The platform delivers actionable insight into restaurants' promotional processes with proven machine learning analytics to prescribe and optimize marketing activities.

"Too often, marketing teams at QSR and fast casual restaurants base decisions about their marketing campaigns on instinct instead of analytics because the data is not readily available to effectively inform their strategies," said Kristin Kranias, senior vice president, analytics solutions, HAVI. "HAVI's Prescriptive Marketing Platform takes the guesswork out of planning LTOs and promotions so restaurant marketers can plan their annual and short-term marketing calendars with confidence and optimize the success of their campaigns."

Kranias said the platforms allows marketers to:

  • Forecast sales, profit and guest count impacts of their planned LTOs and promotions.
  • Simulate performance of a new promotion up to 18 months in advance.
  • Track ongoing promotions and know in real time when to make adjustments.
  • Get recommendations for new LTOs and promotions that will deliver optimal results.
  • Have visibility into the supply chain at a detailed level, by menu item and restaurant.

Flat Tech hopes to eliminate wobbly tables

Wobbly tables can be detrimental to the guest experience, which is why Flat Tech has created Flat Equalizers. They stabilize an operator's existing tables on uneven surfaces, providing cost-effective solutions to the age-old problem of wobbly tables, according to a company press release. 

Flat Equalizer

Equalizers are installed in seconds — without tools — and stabilize the table on uneven surfaces following a gentle press on the tabletop. The hydraulic mechanisms located within the Equalizers allow the user to perfectly align multiple tabletops when tables are pushed together, creating a smooth, even surface for diners, according to the release.

Equalizers are available with a variety of thread sizes to fit almost any table with screw-in feet. Users unscrew their table's existing feet, and replace them with Equalizers.

"Equalizers give restaurant owners and operators a piece of technology that saves them time and money, and ultimately improves the overall customer experience," said Mike Drake, president of FLAT Tech Inc.

Panasonic intros induction cooktop

Panasonic Commercial Food Service Group displayed an induction cooktop, featuring state-of-the-art technology for commercial chefs. Specifically designed for use in the commercial food service industry, the Met-ALL Induction Cooktop provides a fast, responsive cooking experience for restaurants, caterers and other commercial settings, said David Williams, senior product manager.

"Induction technology has long promised flexibility, safety and control for chefs due to its efficient heat distribution and precise temperature controls. And we're proud to have delivered a cooktop that delivers on that promise," he said. "The Met-ALL Induction Cooktop will change how commercial food preparation is done, helping our customers deliver consistently flawless execution, day after day."

The branded technology, "Met-ALL", refers to the cooktop's ability to heat metal pots and pans of all kinds, including aluminum and copper — going beyond traditional iron or stainless steel, a first for commercial induction technology, Williams said. The cooktop also features a state-of-the-art patented IR sensor that monitors the internal temperature of the cooking vessel rather than the outside for more precise heat control to ensure optimal performance. It comes complete with LED displays for the timer and temperature levels, as well as a safety mechanism, called the Luminous Circle that lights up when and where the glass cooktop is heating. A memory feature that allows users to save popular cooking routines is also included.

Middleby launches "Kitchen of the Future"

Middleby launched and showcased the following products at the NRA Show:

  • CTX Kitchen of the Future, which is a 2017 NRA Kitchen Innovation Award Winner, is a continuous cooking platform, according to a company press release. "When the food comes out of the conveyor, it is perfect every time and ready to serve — whether steak, chicken or salmon. With the versatility of Kitchen of the Future, it may be the only piece of kitchen cooking equipment needed," it said.
  • TurboChef Double Batch Impingement Countertop Oven, a single oven with two rapid cook cavities. The 2017 NRA Kitchen Innovation Award winner has the capacity to cook up to 40 16-inch fresh-dough pizzas per hour with minimal countertop space requirements and does not require Type I or II ventilation, according to a company press release. It also can store up to 128 recipes (64 per cavity) and utilizes an split-screen capacitive-touch interface to manage both ovens simultaneously.
  • Carter-Hoffmann GardenChef, a fully automated ecosystem that allows the user to program lighting, watering and monitor water quality for the perfect environment, according to the release. 

Taylor Company showcases enhanced grill features

Taylor Company showed off its latest technology in grilling, frozen dessert and blending at the show. Products, said Jeremy Dobrowolski, managing director of Taylor Company, included:

  • Taylor Crown Grill Series, which features an intuitive touch-screen interface that expands functionality and offers energy-saving standby mode. The advanced software allows for easy menu flexibility and future expansion. The four-flat timer mode allows the operator to cook four different items within the same zone — no need for a remote timer.
  • MagnaBlend Pro frozen blending system, which offers automated mixing from up to eight refrigerated flavor bins and has a built-in shaved ice dispenser and rinse station to increase speed of service. Just nine seconds is all it takes to blend a beverage using the MagnaBlend Pro system, Dobrowolski said.

"Taylor Company is extremely proud to be celebrating our 90th anniversary in the foodservice industry. Our 90 years of experience allow us to innovate products, like those showcased at the NRA Show, that deliver profit, reliability and food safety to our customers around the world,"   Dobrowolski said. "This year we (featured) products that will help operators differentiate their menus by creating customized soft-serve treats, signature blended beverages and cooked-to-perfection burgers."

Editor's note: This is part 1 in a two-part series on NRA product launches.  

Topics: Customer Service / Experience, Digital Signage, Display Technology, Equipment & Supplies, Food & Beverage, Food Cost Management, Food Safety, Food Trucks, Franchising Focus, Franchising & Growth, Marketing / Branding / Promotion, Menu Boards, Menu Labeling, Mobile Payments, Music Services, Mystery Shopping, National Restaurant Association

Companies: FLAT Tech Inc., Apex Supply Chain Technologies, Panasonic Food Service, HAVI Global Solutions, Taylor Company, The Middleby Corporation

Cherryh Cansler

Before joining Networld Media Group as director of Editorial, where she oversees Networld Media Group's nine B2B publications, Cherryh Cansler served as Content Specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City. Throughout her 17-year career as a journalist, she's written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness. Her byline has appeared in a number of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for

wwwView Cherryh Cansler's profile on LinkedIn

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