Beyond the Trends at NRA: What’s Hot vs. What’s Important?

A guide to navigating the plethora of manufacturers vying for your attention.

The recent National Restaurant Show in Chicago this past week gave chefs, operators, and managers a lot to digest. Between the show itself and the many educational sessions, you may feel like American competitive eater Joey Chestnut trying to eat 70 hot dogs at the Nathan’s Famous eating contest.  

The Culinary Forecast continues to rank locally sourced meats and produce at the top of the list. Restaurants continue to be challenged to reduce operating costs, go green, and incorporate technology. The question is, what does that mean for the smallwares, tech, and equipment that you use in your establishment?  

Smallwares Trends

If this is a focus for you, take a close look at what you choose for presentation. Wood of any kind, like bamboo, acacia, and even fir, is not NSF certified, nor is it  food safe. In addition, dishwashers are not kind to wood. In fact, dishwashers will most certainly destroy that beautiful, natural fir presentation platter after one cycle. Melamine used to be a dirty word, but great advances have been made. G.E.T., TableCraft, and others offer commercial-grade melamine and wood-like plates and platters that are dishwasher-safe, while not compromising the natural look. If you are still unsure, ask for a sample before making the decision.

Metals should also be food-safe and dishwasher-friendly. Invest in pieces that won’t rust, bend, or need handwashing. If you still choose wood for your platters and buffet presentations, know how to accent them with food-safe metal accessories and know the proper cleaning and storage procedures for your products to maximize their lifespan.  Manufacturers like Front of House have this information readily available and offer the newest designs. Spend the time to talk to your smallwares dealer or distributor about the right products for your operation.

Technology Upgrades

Are you looking to integrate new technology into your establishment to increase sales or track results?  The innumerable options and applications can make navigating this arena nearly impossible. In fact, tech that can make our life simpler somehow seems confusing. Clearly define what you want to achieve before starting a lease for iPads or a payment plan for an application.

For operators that want to incorporate tablets with their menus, start simple. Tuch Tablets offers a leasing program or purchase program for as little as $10 per tablet per month. Tablets are tough and are constructed with the restaurant industry in mind. Covers can be designed to match your existing paper menu covers. Consider utilizing the tablets for a wine or dessert list before incorporating the entire menu as a test run. Managers can update the menu in real-time and data analytics are offered.

The alternative is to lease or purchase iPads, as well as purchasing software and additional applications, like what TouchBistro or Breadcrumb offers. These apps can help you track your inventory and can integrate with your POS systems as well.

If your goal is to find and capture all of your online reviews, ReviewTrackers offers a simple software solution that crawls over 60 sites, including Yelp, Facebook, and FourSquare, to consolidate your customers’ comments. The software allows you to respond to all your reviews from one location, and presents you with reporting and analytics to identify opportunities.

If you are trying to track every social media outlet on your own, this may be worth the small investment to know what’s working and what’s not.  Basically, you have the power of information to increase your sales and recoup the small expense.

Small Equipment and the Unspoken Dirty Work

Cleanliness is next to godliness, and a restaurant kitchen is divine. Let’s be frank, it can be difficult to keep up with a cleaning schedule without the right tools. The new HydroSwivel Sweeper by Strahman Valves, Inc., makes cleaning your kitchen floors really fun and efficient. As one winner of the KI 2016 Awards, the sweeper features stainless steel construction and works with any standard faucet. Simply put, you can clean your entire back of house, even under tables and under equipment quickly and without excess water spray, keeping your grout intact, too.

Dipper wells are an unspoken, overlooked, but necessary piece of small equipment for bars, coffee shops, and ice cream operations. For the tech-savvy establishment, Nemco offers a RinseWell plug-and-play system to monitor water flow and turbidity. It uses ozone sanitation to help recirculate water. As another 2016 KI recipient, it is pretty revolutionary.  

Wells offers a simple heated disher well that saves hundreds of gallons of water and sanitizes utensils without the extra tech step. It is designed for chefs’ counters, serving counters, and beverage stations. And it fits into any dipper well cut-out, making it a great replacement when your current one takes a dive. It’s a simple, green, and energy-saving product that will pay for itself within a year.

Dining Tables and Technology Collide

Uneven floors, lack of foot adjustments, and rearranging tables can lead to wobbly tables.  Wobbly tables cause unhappy diners, upended surfaces, and unnecessary accidents. You would have to be an amateur physicist to determine which table leg needs the folded up napkin, matchbook, or sugar packet stack to keep the table stable.  

FLAT Tech offers a variety of table bases that auto-adjust on a basic hydraulic system using, surprisingly enough, liquid corn starch. FLAT Tech will offer a demonstration and a temporary sample table base at your location for testing. Take advantage of what a manufacturer like this can offer to fix a common and annoying problem. Sounds too high-tech? Shuv-its will work well also as the inexpensive alternative.

Food for Thought

It’s easy to get lost in the sea of trends. Define your path and knows which trends are within your grasp. Consider the above as a guide to start healthy discussions with your management staff, co-owners, and distributors about smallwares, tech, and equipment solutions.