This was my first time attending the National Restaurant Association Show. Aside from learning that it is best to spell out the entire name of the event (since NRA is a double entendre that can incite quite the conversation these days!), my initial takeaway was that it is an event like no other. The level of innovation was palatable, both literally and figuratively. From 3D printed food, to faux wood furniture, to meat that wasn’t really meat, to ordering Coca-Cola products at a vending machine via Bluetooth device, to a myriad of kitchen gadgets and gizmos, I learned that the restaurant industry is embracing tech now more than ever.

The front of the house has so much technology at their disposal. The various products that allow for ease of processing orders and serving customers is mind-blowing. I may or may not have seen a robot that serves food! We have certainly reached a Jetsons level of innovation in many restaurants. That being said, despite how far we’ve come in the front of the house there is still a need to educate restaurant operators on the benefits of automation in the back of house. At the show, I heard the term “connected kitchen” quite often. However this feels like a misnomer to me. How connected are you if you are using disparate systems to manage your restaurant? What about those using no systems at all? It is intriguing to see so much invested in the technology to power the front of the house, yet handwritten labels and manual food temperature logs taking place in the back of the house. One attendee that was viewing a demo of our product admitted to printing barcodes and taping them onto their grab ‘n go food items. What the what?!

I come from a marketing background where a “tech stack” is a given. Marketers have more technology than they know what to do with. Restaurants and those in the foodservice industry, on the other hand, operate differently. From what I observed at the National Restaurant Association Show, some restaurant operators are using a homegrown tech solutions to manage their back of house. Some are using a specific solution that they are happy with. However, the majority are using manual methods. Manual methods in this day in age are killing productivity and are costly & cumbersome. Doing things manually is not easy. In fact it’s messy, it leaves room for error and compliance issues, and most importantly it’s not doing what you love (cooking food, serving customers, and running your beloved foodservice establishment!)

My biggest takeaway from the event was that change is hard. People are perfectly comfortable doing what they’ve always done until they have a compelling reason to do something different. What will it take for the back of house to truly catch up with the front? When will back of house automation truly be the norm? Perhaps by the next National Restaurant Association Show. Time will tell!