Robots have been dominating the National Restaurant Association Show’s tech pavilion and equipment booths for years, and in 2022, we saw everything from robot dogs that can carry your delivery order up the stairs for you, to several different versions of the robot server that can carry trays of drinks and appetizers. For the most part, AI and automation at the 2022 National Restaurant Association show was focused on robots as labor-saving tools, as that was the number one concern of restaurants coming out of the pandemic.
But this year, we predict that much of the newest technology at the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago next week will be less flashy and more software-focused as data-based digital technology rises in prominence. Of course, automation will still be fully on display as technology vendors tout all-in-one automated solutions for operators, from kitchens of the future to AI-based drive-thru lanes.
Here are our tech predictions for the 2023 National Restaurant Association Show:
Cobots, as the name implies, are robots that are designed to work alongside humans, particularly in the kitchen, and are not meant to replace humans. The robots that were initially introduced to the foodservice space weren’t necessarily created with human coworkers in mind, like server robots and automated bartenders that were on display at last year’s show.
But at the North American Foodservice Equipment Manufacturers conference this year in Orlando, many cobots were on display, with sensor capabilities to determine if a human is walking by, or with a narrow design to make room for people in the kitchen as well. Earlier this year, we wrote about a dishwasher robot designed by Nala Robotics (which will also be at the NRA show next week)that knows the difference between washing a fragile wine glass and a heavy-duty pan, and can also collaborate with humans.
We predict that many robotics companies will be displaying these out on the show floor to showcase the next stage in robotic capabilities that is meant to supplement, not supplant human workers.
Internet of Things
Here’s where we get into software capabilities that aren’t as eye-catching as a burger-flipping or soft drink-serving robot but are nonetheless just as crucial to the future of restaurant technology.
The Internet of Things describes a series of objects or equipment that are connected by cloud-connected sensors. IoT providers help turn a restaurant’s back of house into a smart kitchen by using notifications to help operators more efficiently manage things from energy consumption to employee scheduling.
In taking a look at the exhibitors set to take the floor next week, there are over a dozen IoT providers that can help improve efficiency of a foodservice operation by connecting all of your “things” via cloud-based technology. Many major chains are already implementing this emerging digital technology: KFC is currently using IoT to help reduce administrative time.
It seems like every other day, a new restaurant chain is implementing drive-thru technology—from upgraded digital menu boards and omnichannel-forward drive-thru designs, to the most popular drive-thru trend of all: AI.
Expect to learn a lot more about voice AI in the drive-thru lane at the National Restaurant Association Show this year as several companies are competing to be the first and best in upgrading AI assistant technology to be able to perfectly understand and interact with humans placing orders in quick-service drive-thru lanes.
Kitchen of the future
We know we said that tech trend at the show this year will be decidedly less flashy, but that’s not the case for everything. As more and more tech vendors try to be everything to every operator, we are more likely to see examples of all-in-one automated equipment packages that will look a lot like a (very expensive) kitchen of the future, especially if you purchase each component.
These automated kitchens are not comprised of just one robot or just one AI component, but can pretty much do it all, from robot chefs to automated refrigeration sensors, and recipe management. The kitchen of the future takes components of each of these categories, including AI, robots, and IoT technology and puts it all together to show you how restaurant efficiency could look like in the next decade.
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