May 12-24, 2016, McCormick Place, Chicago, IL. 630,000 square feet of restaurant and hospitality vendors, educators and a few celebrity chefs as well. 2,000 exhibitors offering wares as diverse as ketchup packets, 3D dessert printers and outdoor dining furniture. 42,000 restaurant pros studying their show guides, amassing giveaway swag and helping themselves to tasty samples. The NRA advises operators spend two days at the minimum at the show to cover all of that ground. As an exhibitor in the Technology Pavilion I’m there for all four days and only see a tiny slice of what’s being offered, despite ranging far and wide in search of tasty treats.
There are two things you absolutely need to successfully attend NRA Show 2016: Comfortable shoes and a plan of attack. The average attendee plans to spend over $900,000 on equipment and supplies sourced at the NRA Show. Most operators are in their element throughout the floor, with the exception of the Tech Pavilion, where the language spoken is of “bytes” rather than “bites”, and the pace of change and development can be overwhelming. We’d like to help with that! The official guide won’t be available until the show, but you can get started online at www.nrashow.restaurant.org.
The Tech Pavilion:
The Tech Pavilion, located in the North Hall, is home to a wide variety of vendors, such as table-top ordering kiosks, customer loyalty software, ATS and scheduling apps and payroll systems; basically everything other than food and paper products. Shameless plug time! You can come visit me and the amazing team from WyckWyre (http://wyckwyre.com/) in booth #6257 to talk about your hiring needs and how our ATS could save you time and frustration.
Sometimes restaurant tech can be confusing, especially services that are harder to touch and quantify. It’s easy enough to see the value in a digital menu board, or shop for new Drive Thru equipment. Some of the services presented, however, are a bit vague and can seem daunting. Nevertheless, in you go!
To begin plotting your route through the Technology Pavilion check out the online exhibitor map. You can use the advanced search function to narrow down the exhibitors by category. Follow the links in the company profiles to get a feel for the types of services they are offering, and whether they would be a good fit for your operation. You might not know all of the competing companies by name, so it’s best to search by service area, like Point of Sale systems or digital loyalty card, etc.
Another great place to start is with the Education Sessions. This year there are 25 break-out sessions dedicated to technology developments. Software and apps, all things mobile, and restaurant hiring needs are three of the biggest topics this year. A Tech Talk on building customer engagement using mobile technologies will be offered Saturday through Monday, and is a can’t miss. Tips for recruiting and retaining employees will be offered most days as well, with a great overview of available tools on Monday at 12:30. A general session on the Technology Landscape will be offered Monday at 11:30, covering some of the most popular tech offerings and how to implement them in your restaurant. For a comprehensive list of the education sessions offered click here.
These sessions should help you get a feel for what types of software programs will help manage your restaurant, show you ways to leverage your customer’s ubiquitous smart phones, and guide you to cheaper and faster methods of reaching new potential customers and new employees.
Evaluate your needs:
Before you buy, know your needs and be realistic about what tech you can actually support and utilize. Would your operation benefit from a robust inventory software system that provides advanced analytics and more automated purchasing, or would that be more software than you can manage? Do you need a simple applicant tracking system to process potential hires, or do you also want to conduct background checks, utilize digital onboarding, integrate with your payroll or POS system? Do you want to expand beyond a paper loyalty card to a high tech customer insight program that will give you more details about your marketing effectiveness and help expand your social media presence?
Most software services are created to be highly user friendly, making training your staff and deploying these solutions easier than ever. And while it might seem that more is always more, sometimes a solution can be too big for your operation. Make sure you are able to get a good look at any software service while still in the booth, and be sure to schedule a more comprehensive demo either before or after the show.
Questions for Vendors:
The questions you need to ask the vendors are more straightforward. Find out about their typical or ideal customer. Do they have customers who are similar in size to your operation? Spending tons of money on a system that works better for a chain concept won’t help your independent’s bottom line. Conversely, a system that can’t be expanded, or that doesn’t have available high level oversight just won’t work for franchises. What kind of implementation guidance is offered? Is there any special equipment or operating systems you will need that you need to either purchase or upgrade to? What kind of support is available and is it free, or is there an extra charge? What are the contract terms, if any, or do they offer a trial period? How secure is your data? Does it integrate well with the systems you already have in place?