Innovations from NRA Show 2016

At the NRA Show, the industry's biggest and most dynamic trade show and event, it is an endless sea of exhibitions, educational sessions, products, and new ideas across the 2.6-million-square-foot-space of Chicago's McCormick Place convention center. Needless to say, while every inch is filled with discoveries, it can get a little overwhelming.

In this episode of "Rock My Restaurant," show hosts William Bender and Eric Norman do the leg work for you. After walking the floor, they sit down and product review some of the best innovations they spotted at NRA Show 2016. Trying to figure out the latest software and technology to take your restaurant to the next level? Check out these finds and get ready to rock your restaurant.

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The Lineup

Noodoe: Noodoe could potentially be the next breakthrough in efficiency and speed of service. This device consists of a wristband, which servers wear, and a cube with different icons symbolizing different needs, such as a check or beverage refill, that the table of guests hold onto. These pieces of tech connect wirelessly to the cloud and effortlessly speeds up waiter-to-diner communications, and in the future, could lead to better communications to the back of house.

"I thought that [Noodoe] was pretty cool because it's fully customizable, too, so the owner or operator can put anything they want on there. So, depending on what side the little unit is sitting on, that's what translates to your wristband," Eric said.

Zenreach: Email capture and marketing is one of the most challenging aspects when it comes to improving your restaurant's client base. Through Zenreach, brands can build a database through their Wi-Fi. When guests log in by submitting their email addresses, Zenreach collects this information and brands can use these lists to drive sales in marketing, whether through sent reminders, customer loyalty programs, or other incentives.

HotSchedules: HotSchedules it a revolutionary, restaurant management platform. From talent recruiting, to a continuous training e-learning program, to flexible staff scheduling, to instant message communications, this software does a lot of hard work to make processes a lot easier. Not to mention other features such as inventory and asset management — what can't you accomplish with HotSchedules?

STUBBORN Soda: STUBBORN soda is a paragon of what craft beverage should be all about. Through its natural ingredients and unique flavors (Orange Hibiscus, Lemon Berry Açaí, or Pineapple Cream Soda, anyone?), guests will be thirsty for more.

"What this does is really allow an operator to be better, special, or different," Bill said. "They also have a wonderful dispenser for fast casual restaurants called a pumper."

TradingTable: Whether you are an operator, distributor, or supplier, it doesn't matter what side of the table you sit on — this digital, paperless ordering platform connects each party involved in the transaction. It is a seamless solution and is a total automation of a purchasing agent's duties. The system has algorithms set to help operators find the best prices for products, which they can then order through the platform.

Ovention: Ovention may look like a typical conveyor oven, but this high-capacity, high-speed oven has two shuttles, allowing chefs to cook different food items with similar cooking temperatures. Chicken strips cooking on one side (through closed cooking, which means no need for exhausts or hoods) can then switch over to cookies on the other. This maximizes versatility and speed.

Riage X3: Two words: massage chair. 

"You were able to fit that into your schedule?" Bill asked.

"Ahh, 20 minutes of pure heaven, man. I could hardly get out of the chair" Eric said.

Watch the full episode now!

On Foodable Insight Series: How Chefs Can Innovate for Sustainability

Urban Farm & Eatery, the world's first fully sustainable restaurant that can grow all of its food — farmed, brewed, crafted, or baked within the premises —  is aiming to open this year and has a goal to serve with a minimal ecological footprint. At the forefront of this movement is chef and entrepreneur Jaime Guerrero, a multi-talented chef who focuses on the need for wholesome food and sustainable farming practices.

"I think that sustainability is something that every chef should be aware of and should be supporting. The whole idea of local and supporting hyperlocal? Our customers are asking for it right now," he said.

Guerrero is also the co-founder of the Schurz Food Science Lab, a one-of-a-kind food science program in Chicago's Schurz High School that makes it a mission to raise the next generation of the country's farmers by translating science, nutrition, and environmental awareness into real-life skills. 

"I'm trying to catch these kids in high school when they're trying to figure out what they want to do, and the reality is that us as chefs and [others in the] sustainable and vertical farming industry need skilled laborers. And not only that, we need kids curious about trying different things to keep our planet sustainable," Guerrero said.

Whether seeking vegetarian or completely vegan trends, consumers are demanding for more plant-based menu items. Superfoods, such as microgreens, are moving on to be more than just garnishes but key ingredients to a dish. Guerrero urges chefs to be conscious of and support the movement.

What things can chefs do in the farming industry to make that happen? Where and how can they improve their own sustainable practices? What practical habits can they start now as the limitation of natural resources becomes a greater challenge in the future?

"It's easy. It's actually just picking up the phone or Googling your local farms, and you'd be surprised how many farms are actually in the area. You'd be surprised of how willing a farmer is with collaborating with you and teaching you, and bringing you into their farms, and even more willing to work with you if you have a specific need," Guerrero said. 

If chefs have a specific menu item they use in abundance, or one that is sparse that they want to explore, Guerrero encourages chefs to reach out to local farmers and discover what possibilities can come out of these connections. 

Watch the full episode of "On Foodable Insight Series" to learn more.

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

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

By Jaclyn Morgan, FCSI, JM Foodservice Consulting, LLC

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? 

Read More

NRA Special Report: ServSafe Updates and Broadening Food Safety Culture

Aside from the menu, food safety is arguably the biggest factor that underlines a restaurant’s success — or if done improperly, downfall.

In this NRA Special Report edition of “On Foodable Weekly,” we are joined by three food safety champions: Hal King, president and CEO of Public Health Innovations, LLC; Mick Miklos, senior manager for program compliance at the National Restaurant Association; and Dave Crownover, product manager at ServSafe®.

“One of the things Mick and I, and even Hal, talk about is [that] to serve food safely, it takes commitment from the top down,” Crownover said, from the smallest food card to the largest multinational chains. “...And it is recognizing that without that commitment, they’re not going to be in business.”

What are some of the most recurring issues restaurants face when it comes to food safety?

“I think sanitation and cleaning is still a big challenge. I’ll be [at] restaurants and see the red bucket and the rag,” King said, urging for more innovation. “It can be used safely if it’s maintained in a sanitizer solution, but often times what happens is they [the kitchen staff] gets so busy, they’ll use that as a way to clean and sanitize without actually using cleaners and sanitizers.”

Currently, most food codes suggest that there should be one certified food protection manager per establishment, but there is a potential in the next iteration of the food code in 2017 that a CFPM will need to be present at all shifts. But beyond the internal team being prepared, it is even more so important to establish a positive relationship with external regulatory agencies and to not have an us-against-them mentality.

“I can tell you from direct experience that a crisis is not the time to be exchanging business cards for the first time with the regulatory authority in the jurisdiction,” Miklos said. “We are partners with a common purpose, and that purpose to protect the dining public.”

Want to learn more about broadening the food safety culture? Watch the episode now!

NRA Special Report: How the Educational Foundation and ProStart Program Are Developing Leadership Within the Industry

Restaurants are known as a starting ground for people in their career paths. In fact, one in three workers can say they’ve been in foodservice in at least one point of their lives. As the workforce continues to advance and develop, and with 1.7 million jobs expected to arise in the next decade, how can we ensure that the proper research, training, resources, and talent add to the growth and prosperity of the industry?

In this “On Foodable Weekly” NRA Special Report, we are joined by National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation EVP of Strategic Operations and Philanthropy, Rob Gifford.

The Educational Foundation focuses on three key areas: it works to tell the story of opportunity to attract people to the industry, it works with people who want to enter the industry by giving them the skills they need, and it works within the industry by exposing the current workforce to training tools to help them move upward in their professions. From QSR to fine dining, there may be different sectors and segments with various disciplines and missions, but customer service, the ability to think quick on your feet, and teamwork are valuable all across the board.

“There are certain core attributes that exist no matter where. So some of the work that we’ve done has really been to identify what some of those core foundational skills that make you successful in this industry no matter who you are, no matter where you go, and frankly, make you successful no matter whether you stay in this industry or whether you ultimately move on. The restaurant industry has an amazing track record of training America’s workforce,” Gifford said.

One of the ways the Educational Foundation accomplishes this is through its ProStart program. ProStart is a high-school-based culinary and career technical education program in 1,800 schools nationwide. Whether the 140,000 students involved are passionate about becoming a manager or a chef, the curriculum prepares them for both tracks. While some students enter the industry right after graduation, others continue the program in local colleges that partner with the NRAEF.

“The ProStart program embraces both, and it is really bringing about the next generation of managers and leaders within the industry,” he said.

Still, the youth isn’t the only group that needs to be educated. People who come from backgrounds in finance, medical, and other fields are switching over. The restaurant industry has evolutionized to a more welcoming and empowering arena. How do we meet the huge employment needs in the future? Find out by watching the episode or visiting