While the buzz of The 2016 NRA Show floor has quieted since May, NRN takes another look at some of the futuristic products you may have missed, from a salad-making robot and coffee maker allowing guests to skip the line, to self-monitoring hoods and flues and up-to-the-minute, in-demand menu management.
These new products show how smart technology can offer convenience to the customer and to restaurant operators.
Sally the Salad Robot
The Salad Robot is a prototype that will be available by the end of year. Created by Casabots, a company founded two years ago in San Jose, Calif., the Salad Robot occupies a 28-inch-square footprint and stands 35 inches high. It was displayed in the NRA Show’s Startup Alley, after making a belated arrival because of the one unit’s debutante event at a technology show in Austin, Texas. Sally is basically a mechanical refrigerator with computerized touchscreen controls. The robot takes orders from its touchscreen keypad and automatically builds the salad. See the robot in action below:
And part of the robot's role is food safety. “Do you know 20 percent to 50 percent of people don't always wash their hands after using a restroom?” asked Deepak Sekar, founder and CEO of Casabots. "Imagine these people touching a salad bar. It was clear the world needed a hygienic, low-space, low-maintenance alternative to today's salad bars.”
The company has not yet finalized a price point for Sally.
Get coffee fast
For those customers who hate to wait in line just to get their coffee fix, ValidFill has introduced a new product.
“The whole notion of this ValidFull coffee solution is how can I shorten my lines? How can I allow folks to self serve, get their coffee and get on with their day?” said Ira Gleser, vice president of industry relations, Whirley-DrinkWorks!, sister company to ValidFill.
The product allows coffee brewers to read prepaid RFID tags on coffee mugs. The guests pay ahead for their coffee refills and skip the line.
The benefit for customers, Gleser said, is that they come in with their prepaid mugs with RFID chips and are able to get their coffee and get out quickly.
“The operators certainly enjoy getting the prepaid revenue from the sale of the coffee mug.”
The customers loads refills on their mug at a separate kiosk via credit card.
Gleser said the product aims to drive visit frequency and loyalty. The company also plans to use the data from the product to offer trend insights.
“We’re going to be able to monitor purchase times, purchase frequency, visit frequency because every RFID reader has a GPS locator on it.”
The RFID product, which can work with any coffee brewer, is currently being tested in the university foodservice space and in convenience stores, but Gleser anticipates moving the testing to restaurants soon.
Grubhub announced the launch of GrubCentral, a new in-restaurant technology platform designed to simplify the management of online orders and pave the way for restaurants to offer last-mile delivery.
Through a Grubhub-provided tablet or a web browser on their own laptop or PC — and soon via mobile app — restaurant operators can create and modify their menu on Grubhub’s marketplace in real time, listing specials or taking off items that run out. They can also manage the financials and cash in money owed on demand if needed rather than wait for weekly payments.
In markets where Grubhub offers last-mile delivery, restaurant operators can order drivers, track their location, check on orders or resolve issues. Grubhub now delivers in more than 50 markets, a number that grows every year.
GrubCentral is available in about 2,000 restaurants now as part of a rolling launch, said Akshat Thanawala, Grubhub senior director of product.
It’s a good bet that most operators would prefer not burning their restaurant to the ground. Unfortunately, in a place where grease meets heat, such things can happen.
A quarter of restaurant fires originate from the grill, said Mark Copeland, the chief marketing officer at Mendota Heights, Minn.-based Restaurant Technologies Inc. One problem: The hood and flue above the grill is often coated with grease, sometimes severely so, and if it hasn’t been cleaned recently, the results can be disaster.
“Once a fire gets into the flue, the fire department stops fighting it,” Copeland said, noting that it’s too dangerous for firefighters to stop those fires.
Restaurant Technologies’ Auto Mist is designed to prevent that problem. The system automatically cleans hoods and flues, spraying them with a combination of water and a special cleaner periodically throughout the day from a system of pipes. It then drains into a container that’s emptied at the end of the day.
Typically, Copeland said, restaurants will periodically employ cleaning companies to clean the hoods and flues of grease, sometimes taking hours to do so. If the cleaning is done during closing, then the restaurant has to pay a manager to stay on. If the restaurant is open 24 hours, it has to close.
Restaurant Technologies bought the rights to the device from its inventors, one of whom was a restaurant owner who lost his restaurant to a fire from just such a situation, Copeland said.