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How the ‘Tale of Two Cities’ will bloom to touch three

January traditionally holds both the Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, in Las Vegas, and The “Big Show” from the National Retail Federation, or NRF, in New York. CES focuses on new consumer technologies, while the NRF event is centered on technology specific to general and specialty retailers.

With the International Foodservice Technology Exposition, or FS/TEC, slated to move to February in 2009, this annual early tech tale of two cities will become a tale of three cities. I’m certainly not looking past FS/TEC 2008 this week at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas, but I do find it intriguing to think about what the expanding number of first-quarter shows may mean to our industry.

By more closely following CES and the Big Show, FS/TEC may be better able to leverage the learnings and buzz from those two events, while filtering and reshaping any passed-on knowledge to better suit the foodservice crowd in attendance.

CES is of interest to foodservice technology watchers, as they are always looking for ways to connect with the guest. And the Big Show intrigues them because some hardware and software items used in foodservice have moved over from the retail segment.

With certain apologies to the organizers of CES and the Big Show, from here on out, we may playfully think of those events as warm-up activities for FS/TEC. So what of interest to restaurateurs—as well as the staff information technology professionals, vendors and consultants who serve them—might be gleaned from this year’s opening acts?

CES 2008 had three primary themes: developments in digital displays; gains in gaming; and the upward mobility of mobility, in the form of wireless phones, global positioning systems, or GPS, and small form factor computing devices, including handhelds.

At CES, digital displays were everywhere and in every shape and size, including a 100-inch horizontal screen featuring new “surface-mounted” and touch-activated computing capabilities. The latter was introduced to the public first through the political-analysis shows on CNN and the weather reports on the major networks. With prices falling and sophistication rising for displays, they soon will be used everywhere in foodservice operations, including menu boards, customer self-service kiosks for dining rooms and drive-thrus and on the table for a variety of applications.

Related to technology and mobility, FS/TEC 2008 and the 2009 edition will no doubt reveal many interesting applications supporting what was clear at the earlier shows: Putting more power in the hands of the guest and our employees is the way of the future.

In the gaming arena, the potential benefit to operators is the ability to sell to the consumer through intelligent placement of ads in games as well as to utilize gaming technology to connect with our employees in training.

The NRF Show featured similar types of technologies, but they were very much scaled down and specific for the retail industry.

At the Big Show, handheld technologies for inventory, ordering and communications were readily available with applications specific to the retail industry. Increasingly, the applications show improved capabilities for in-store networking and communications thanks to the use of RFID, GPS and “near field” communications chips.

What may have started as an annual New Year’s tale of two cities will soon become a tome about three, and that’s as it should be for the restaurant industry, as FS/TEC continues to focus on the specific needs of foodservice users and suppliers and will be doing just that next February in Orlando, Fla.

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