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!

Employees Are Team Members: Turn Have-to-Work into Teamwork

The only thing that stands between success and failure is a great team. And as the saying goes, the strength of each team is in each individual member — the strength of each member? In the team. So, how do you build a better team? In this episode of "Rock My Restaurant," show hosts William Bender and Eric Norman lay down the best practices for management and staffing.

New uniforms, new training techniques, new table manners, new approach — where does a brand begin when reinvigorating its service? The first step is to remember that the hospitality industry is one of people serving people. The human aspect is one that cannot be lost.

"People are so important in our industry. The old terminology is 'staff,' 'personnel.' Nowadays, we want team members," Bill said.

What Does Team Mean?

What is the defining difference in the word alone? When employees feel like a team member, they feel as though they are a part of something, compared to someone who just has to be there, Eric explained. So, how does the team member experience fit into the model of the restaurant business and what can operators do to incorporate this mentality?

Cultivating a Team Environment

The One-Minute Manager. This concept, which began as a book by Kenneth Blanchard, Ph.D., and Spencer Johnson, M.D., states the number one motivator is feedback on performance. Managers, executives, owners, and operators should focus on team members doing something right, as opposed to only addressing the things that go wrong. When leaders build on that, positive reinforcement generates productivity due to the happiness of employees. 

Environment Dictates Turnover. Poor training and unfit hires lead to a turnover rate of 20 to 30 percent year over year, with an average cost of $1,800-2,000 per turnover. Onboarding and weeks of training over and over again leads to a lot of wasted man hours. The key is to take away the anxiety from the first day and encourage a welcoming environment. By setting the standard of a welcoming environment, team members are encouraged to soldier through the challenges.

Comfort is Key. Something as simple as comfortable uniforms when moving between hot kitchen and cold dining room temperatures, specific team member restrooms, and team member storage areas go a long way. Extra steps to ensuring ergonomic design compounds into employee productivity. 

Incentive Programs. Customers aren't the only ones who should get rewarded. Mini-contests and other incentives boost team member morale and makes each individual feel as though they are are being acknowledged for their efforts in creating the best customer experience. When team members feel as though they are not taken for granted, they are more likely to be motivated and less likely to seek other opportunities, which is directly tied to less turnover and costs to the operator.

Watch the full episode to learn how to turn your restaurant staff into your team.

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

A Man of Many Talents: Billy Dec Kicks Off Bar 16 at NRA Show


A major player in Chicago’s hospitality scene kicked off the 2016 National Restaurant Association Restaurant Show this past Sunday, May 22, in Chicago.

Sharing both the successes and challenges in the evolution of his hospitality concepts, Billy Dec, CEO and founder of Rockit Ranch Productions, took the stage as the BAR (Beverage Alcohol for Restaurants) 16 keynote speaker at the NRA Show.

Dec talked about utilizing team collaboration to develop concepts in cocktail innovation, standout branding, and chef-driven menus — and how his team motivates him to invest in cutting-edge bar programs that elevate the customer experience and his company's profits.

An Elevated Experience

Staying profitable and popular in the bar and restaurant industry is difficult, but Dec — who specializes in brand differentiation and creating leading distinctive beverage programs, and who has elevated entertainment experiences across bar and restaurant concepts — has managed to do it. And that’s more than just hype. The proof: Regardless of the fact that the industry is ever-changing, Rockit Ranch continues to increase profitability consistently every year.

Dec’s brainchild, Chicago's premier hospitality and entertainment development company, specializes in the creation, marketing, and management of some of the city's top nightclubs, bar and grills, and sports bars, including Rockit, Sunda, Underground, Rockit Burger Bar, Bottlefork, and The Duck Inn. For more than 12 years, Rockit Ranch has maintained a curated beverage program, unique to each concept's individual brand.

A man of many talents, Dec is also an actor (think Empire and Criminal Minds); film producer; Emmy Award-winning TV personality; a regular entertainment contributor to ABC’s Windy City Live and food contributor to NBC’s Today Show; attorney (non-practicing); and social media master of sorts (with a devoted Twitter following, one of which you might have heard of — not mentioning any names, POTUS). President Obama did appoint Dec to serve on his White House Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in May 2014. Dec also serves on the White House Bullying Prevention Task Force. 

A Well-Stocked Show Floor

After Dec’s keynote, BAR attendees enjoyed menu pairing stations featuring perfect food and drink unions from some of Chicago’s hottest restaurants.

At the Interactive Demo Lounge, attendees experience “Mixology in Action,” (shaking, stirring, and swirling action), as interactive demonstrations illustrate how to turn the trends into hot items on the menu.

In the Craftique Pavilion, which focuses on limited-production producers, attendees found indi distilleries, breweries, and wineries, as well as customer-crafted cocktails.

At the Main Stage, contestants vied to be named Star of the Bar. Six finalists took to the stage to demonstrate how their signature drinks — all featuring Jägermeister — come together. The competition was fierce.

San Francisco Star of the Bar finalist Baron Stelling of Paragary’s Midtown and the Shady Lady Saloon, had a winning blend of gin, lime juice, grenadine, and apricot liquor, all topped with dashes of bitters, and absinthe — The Stag Savior.

San Diego winner Brian Prugalidad of Bracero Cocina created "Finishing Move: Serious, Serious Punch," using pineapple, pisco, bitters, and cinnamon bark syrup to complement the Jägermeister.

Boston winner Tenzin Samdo of Trade concocted "56 Secret Admirers," using mezcal, ginger beer, bitters and candied ginger.

Charleston winner Teddy Nixon of Bar Mash stirred up "Day Tripper," a tropical blend of toasted coconut pineapple rum, pineapple juice, lime, orgeat, peychaud bitters, and absinthe.

Matt Friedlander of Fools Gold, the New York City winner, went “Any Which Way But Left,” to blend a cocktail with aperol, amaro, molé bitters, and a grapefruit peel garnish.

The Chicago winner, 90 Miles Cuban Café’s Carlos Cuarta, mixed up the complex "Curt's Summer Dram" cocktail with rum, passion fruit, lemon juice, and bitters.

Bar 16 at the NRA Show runs through May 24.

NRA Special Report: The Kitchen Cabinet — Industry Growth through Grassroots Advocacy

The restaurant industry is 14.4 million strong. When that force is united, the possibilities for change and growth are endless. And yet, we didn’t begin as a massive segment. Foodservice was born by gathering in small kitchens, mom-and-pop shops, and local cafés. To pave the way to the future, it can help to return to the start.

In this NRA Special Report, as part of “On Foodable Weekly” and Foodable’s exclusive coverage of the 2016 NRA Show, meet the National Restaurant Association Director of Political Advocacy and Grassroots, Jon Simons. Members of the NRA are encouraged to get involved with the electoral process and policy issues both on a state and federal level, and they are given the tools they need to interact with legislators to fight the good fight.

“If we don’t talk about our story and tell it, then nobody is going to know what it is and draw their own conclusions,” Simons said.

For operators interested in getting involved, and to help public officials understand what the restaurant industry is all about, the NRA has put the Kitchen Cabinet in motion. The Kitchen Cabinet is a grassroots movement of operators, employees, and community members committed to preserving opportunity growth for the restaurant industry, especially because foodservice continues to be a strong pillar in the American culture and economy. It also provides a broader view on how different policies could affect restaurants’ bottom line and employees’ wages.

Restaurants nationwide already have strong partnerships with charities and others already provide workforce opportunity and training for their teams, but what is the best way those in the industry can make an impact?

“The operator just needs to get more involved in the policy conversation, at the local conversation especially,” Simons said. “The more that they get out there and share all the great work they’re already doing...really drives that conversation.”