Skip navigation
Restaurant Show
Data stock photo Getty Images
Data was the star of the National Restaurant Association Show.

How data has become the universal currency of restaurant tech

While robots, POS systems, and kitchen gadgets were on display at the Restaurant Show, data was the behind the scenes driving force at almost every tech booth

The most popular technology tool on display at the 2024 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago was mostly invisible. What do the robotic arms, POS systems, back of house analytics tools, and more booth gadgets have in common? Most of them are powered by and supported by data. Data — whether it’s collected by machine learning or AI — has proven to be the universal currency of restaurant technology in 2024 and beyond.

Operators are waking up to the significance of data collection and optimization in operational decision-making, from employee scheduling and inventory management, to marketing data about customers. This was especially evident at the Restaurant Show, where almost every booth at the tech pavilion went into detail about the data their software (and sometimes hardware) provides.

Toast was showcasing its new Benchmarking tool that allows restaurants to compare their restaurant and menu performance against similar restaurants in their region (though all of the data is anonymized). In this case, the aggregate Toast operator customer data is used to provide insights to restaurants on what they should put on their menus next, and how they can update their pricing to keep up with operational trends and their competitors. The technology uses both AI and machine learning to aggregate and analyze menu data.

“We wanted to create something that enables each of our merchants to see what’s happening outside of their four walls,” Susie Riley, product designer and vice president of new ventures with Toast, said. “So, if your sales were down last week, you’re probably wondering, ‘is it just me, or was this happening to other restaurants in my neighborhood?’”

As more and more tech vendors begin to utilize data reports in new and insightful ways, it’s crucial for designers to create accessible UX interfaces that can be easily accessible by a busy store manager on the go.

User interface design was mentioned by multiple tech vendors on the Restaurant Show floor, including both Toast and Middleby-owned AI company Powerhouse Dynamics. Although Powerhouse Dynamics’ Internet of Things product is not new, the “plug and play” interconnected network of all Middleby (and associates’) equipment was showcased for the first time this year. The Powerhouse Dynamics’ IoT capabilities include sending operational, maintenance, and energy usage data to operators. Users can also set rules for the system, which can help to eliminate the noise of too much unnecessary data, so for example setting a rule to immediately notify a franchisee or manager if the freezer breaks in the middle of the night, even if they don’t necessarily need to know every piece of data the system could provide.

“Let's say I don't want to pay attention to the 95% — I already know when it’s all going right — I just want to know that 5%, and then I want to get that to my field later so they can close that gap,” Alex Lundy, vice president of product at Middleby said. “So that's where a lot of the power comes from and where the data can become actually useful.” 

It was surprising to see how many data-supported hardware and equipment were on the Restaurant Show floor, including robotics. While robot arms that specialize in dipping fry baskets and sprinkling cheese on pizzas have been around for several years, technology startup Robochef takes this automation technology to a new level with the addition of data insights, alongside customizable back of house robotics solutions.

“We are able to collect data in our cyber physical ecosystems via an ecosystem of sensors and motors, and that behavior is all collected in the cloud,” Aravind Durai, founder of Robochef, said. “This allows us to have a digital footprint of everything that ever happened in that machine in the field…allowing us to gain useful insights that typically would not have even been possible using human resources.”

For example, Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas has a Robochef-run cookie shot vending machine from acclaimed pastry chef Dominque Ansel that is able to run automatically long after the bakery closes, but the casino floor is still open.

“Based on the analysis of that sales data, the next day morning at 4:00 when the bakery staff comes to replenish the stock, you're able to tell them with 99% confidence that they should stock the machine up with X amount of cookies and know you’re not going to run out,” Durai said.  

Contact Joanna at [email protected]

TAGS: Operations
Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.