On the Line / Industry News / Live Coverage of the 2019 National Restaurant Association Show

Live Coverage of the 2019 National Restaurant Association Show

Welcome to Toast's live coverage of the 2019 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. Between May 18-21, we published live updates about everything we saw, heard, and ate at the biggest restaurant event of the year.


DISCLAIMER: This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal, accounting, tax, HR, or other professional advice. You are responsible for your own compliance with laws and regulations. You should contact your attorney or other relevant advisor for advice specific to your circumstances.

Restaurant people rarely get the opportunity to hang out together as an industry — it's almost impossible to leave a busy restaurant — but one of those times is here. 

What Is the National Restaurant Association Show?

The 2019 National Restaurant Association Show was a four-day gathering of 42,557 restaurant operators, retail foodservice professionals, equipment dealers, chefs, food distributors, technology providers, and more. People from all over the restaurant world came together to explore the trends that are changing the way we own and operate the restaurant industry, both now and in the future. This year's event was in Chicago between May 18 and May 21. 

Live Coverage of Everything That Happened

This year, Toast reporters hit the show floor — attending workshops, competitions, talks, and events — to bring you everything you need to know about this year's show. Before, throughout, and after the four days, this page has been transforming with predictions, real-time coverage, and summaries of the biggest trends we saw at the show this year.

The Big Trends and Takeaways From The 2019 National Restaurant Show

The focus of this year's show was on how we're innovating as an industry while creating amazing dining experiences for our guests. Here are some of the biggest trends, lessons, and predictions we saw throughout the four days.

  • Labor shortages, hiring, training, and employee retention were the big themes of the show. Restaurants across the country are feeling the impacts of a strong economy and a tight labor market. Retaining restaurant managers is particularly tough and can have a direct impact on the success of a restaurant. According to the National Restaurant Association, "It costs roughly $2,000 to recruit and train a new hire into the restaurant business." And for managers, "It’s about $15,000." We learned about ways to deal with it.
  • Health and wellness, both physical and mental, for restaurant workers, and how to create safe work environments were also big topics of discussion.
  • The boom of third-party ordering and off-premise dining. We heard about how to use these platforms to market, to own the guest experience and quality of service, and to actually make a profit. The current economic model is not sustainable for most restaurant operators, and people are looking for solutions.
  • Innovative restaurant technology that can improve operations through automation, efficiency, safety improvements, and sustainability. We saw it all: platforms that can lower your food and labor costs, tools to help you build a guest loyalty program, tips on how to protect your restaurant's data, and even Amazon Alexa glasses that feed you information while you're walking the restaurant floor (that one really got the crowd excited). 
  • Sustainability and the environment, and how it's impacting the restaurant industry, was another big trend. It turns out diners really care about visiting restaurants that are doing things for the environment. We saw products and techniques that address diners’ concerns about nutrition, packaging, and food waste.
  • Innovations in the foodservice supply chain and the steps the industry is taking to improve operations, cost, and quality. 
  • New culinary trends and techniques to test and market. We heard about alternative milks, cannabis, Asian-inspired spices, and plant-based everything. We also found out which wine will be the next rosé, and did you know snacks are the cool, new menu trend?
  • All the industry personalities — celebs like Andrew Zimmern and Rick Bayless — gave talks and culinary demos, and we heard from restaurant leaders from every space within the industry.
  • And then there were the celebrations — it was the 100th annual show, so this event was a big deal (there was even a 1,000 pound cheesecake).

Over 100 countries and all 50 states were represented at the 100th anniversary event. This was a huge event. Mary Pat Heftman, President, Restaurant Show Group at Winsight, the show’s producer, said the show was a huge success. “Besides the record exhibit sales and strong attendance growth, the energy on the show floor was palpable. Education sessions were standing room only, there were delicious new foods at every turn, and once again, ingenuity was on display everywhere you looked.”

Ready to see what we thought of the show? Jump into the live coverage below.

Day 1 

8:00 am — You like cake, right? 

Thought so, which is why we're kicking off this morning with what's clearly the most important news of the day. To kick off the festivities, a 1,000 pound cheesecake, courtesy of Eli’s Cheesecake, will be sliced and served to show attendees. The cake will be cut by Dawn Sweeney, President & CEO of the National Restaurant Association, and Ted Balestreri, the 100th Anniversary Chairman. But the real question is this: Does it taste any good? We'll do the work to find out.

8:15 am — It's coffee time.

Restaurant people from all over the country are arriving at McCormick Place, in Chicago. You can see the full list of exhibitors here. There are a ton of things that excite us about today's agenda, and we're ready to run these exhibition halls, iPhone and samples in hand.

9:00 am — The Toast team is ready to deliver delight from booth #6265. Come say hi! 

The North Hall is filling up with all types of tech, kitchen equipment, and food product exhibitors putting the final touches on their booths. The hall is looking bright and full. The samples are being prepared, and the smell of bacon is beginning to fill the room. Prepare your stomachs, friends.

10:00 am — Take Back the Lunch Break℠ with Tork

It's the first session of the show, and we're learning from Suzanne Cohen of Essity about how restaurants can drive more customers by supporting the push to eliminate the sad desk lunch

According to a survey run by Tork, "22% of bosses think that employees who take lunch breaks are less hard working." But they also found through this research that "employees who do take a regular lunch break are more likely to report feeling effective and efficient at work." With this data, Tork wanted to help workers across America "take back the lunch break" while finding ways to help restaurants support that initiative and get more customers in the door. Chelsea Robinson, from Toast customer honeygrow, explained how they've been supporting this movement with events at their NYC location and campaigns on social media. Taking part in this initiative is a great way to drive more traffic during the lunch hour.

Is the "take back the lunch break" message one that might resonate with your diners?

10:00 am — Nutrition and Sustainability: The Best of Both Worlds on Your Menu

Why become sustainable? Jeff Clark, from the National Restaurant Association, says not only is it a phenomenal marketing tool for Millennial consumers — they're actively supporting brands whose values mirror theirs — but customers are also seeking healthier options when dining out so they can maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Sustainability and hyper-local sourcing have been top trends in dining since 2012. In 2019, zero–waste cooking is the #3 dining trend. To become a sustainable restaurant, you can choose to optimize a number of operational areas like food waste, energy efficiency, animal welfare, water efficiency, renewable energy, and much more.

Some sustainable menu tips from the experts:

  1. Plate plant-based dishes in the middle. Put meat to the side. This highlights your plant-based offerings to consumers and makes them more enticing. 
  2. Add a blended burger to your menu: a mix of meat and a plant-based protein in a patty. This will help you reduce your restaurant's carbon footprint by reducing the amount of meat you're purchasing.
  3. Incorporate plant-based proteins on your menu. Plant-based proteins aren't only attractive to vegetarian diners, but Millennial and Gen Z diners are interested in trying the goods, too. This move can give you longevity with diners in younger generations. 
  4. Purchase produce from farms that practice sustainable farming. NGOs like The Perennial Farming Initiative are working with restaurants to spread the word about the importance of buying from sustainable farms and employing sustainable business principles. 
  5. Take sugary drinks off your kid's menu and default to water, milk, and 100% juice. Not only will this promote healthy choices and reduce the risk of childhood obesity in your area, but soda and sugary drink manufacturers use a hefty amount of our drinking water to produce their products. McDonalds switched to a water, milk, and juice default on their children's menus in 2013, and they've since seen a 12% increase in sales, with a 36-48% in water, milk, and juice sales overall.

10:30 am — Authentic Oaxacan Mole with Celebrity Chef (and Chicago native) Rick Bayless

Did you know Chef Rick Bayless grew up in a restaurant? Back in his family's establishment, in Missouri, he used to spend the majority of meal service in the walk–in concocting creations. His parents' only rule? You've got to eat them! From an early age, he learned how to develop and shape flavor profiles and the fine art of scarfing down his less-than-ideal innovations. 

At today's culinary showcase, Bayless is creating an authentic Oaxacan mole, built upon taste profiles developed over millennia of Aztec cooking. 

"In Oaxacan culture, food is an art," says Bayless. As a frequent traveller to Oaxaca, his goal was to learn how to make mole so well that it passed the Oaxacan grandmother test. The key ingredient in this dish is green tomatillos. Rick is pro roasting tomatillos — don’t boil. You’ll get a stronger flavor and more sweetness via roasting.

11:00 am — Develop Your Team, Win the Future

Many of us in the industry are facing challenges training and retaining our employees. This constant loss of employee talent drains time, energy, and money. It detracts from our business’ performance and team morale. It’s a huge challenge for restaurants right now. 

Sara Anderson, Director of Workforce Development at the National Restaurant Association, and Kenneth Ivory, Vice President of Operations at Creative Dining Services, are about to step on stage to talk about this issue.

To stay alive as a restaurant, you need staff, right? According to Sara, our industry employs 10% of the workforce in the U.S., but when it comes to professional career options, we’re not often viewed in a positive light. We have open positions in our restaurants, but we’re struggling to find the talent. Sara says, "It costs roughly $2,000 to recruit and train a new hire into the restaurant business." And for managers, she says, "It’s about $15,000."

Here's what the labor force is telling us:

  • 87% of employees value training and development.

  • 40% of employees who receive poor job training leave within the first year. 

  • 60% of the workforce is millennial or Gen Z, and many of those people are looking for a career in the industry. 

So how will we keep filling positions and keep staff happy to grow our industry? It’s all about training, according to Sara and Kenneth. We need to train ourselves and train our staff. We see it all the time: We promote our individuals who are rockstars and, all of a sudden, they need to play the team lead role. But we, as the managers, need to train them to do that well. 

Our industry needs more career services, educational training, and restaurant certifications if we're to continue to succeed as a community.

12:00 pm — Attacking the Snack Craze

As competition for share of foodservice dollars continues to grow, snacking is apparently one of the key areas poised for growth. Operators from The Culinary Edge, Firehouse Subs, and Chili’s are putting efforts toward off-peak business, looking for ways to drive traffic to their restaurants for between-meal and late-night snacking. Here are the highlights on snacks:

  • As the day goes on, spend is higher, so the afternoon snack is a great segment to target.
  • Trying to serve everyone is not the best idea — focus on the snack items that align with your brand and target customer.
  • To manage menu and labor costs when pricing snacks — which are smaller portions with lower menu prices — think about how to attract your customer with innovative snack items that align with existing core ingredients you already have on your menu.
  • How do we feel about the term "social snacks"? I'm not so sure.
  • Pricing happy hour snacks in the $4 to $6 range seems to be the sweet spot for most restaurants.
  • Snacks that are visually appealing with catchy names tend to be the most popular in social media promotion.
  • How do you define a snack? "Two to three bites," one expert says. "A smaller-sized meal that's served in between typical meal periods," says another.

12:30 pm — Time for our own snacks.

The show floor is buzzing with restaurant people. Here, you'll find everything you need to both stay full and run a restaurant: From dining equipment to staff uniforms, consumer products, kitchen robots, and restaurant technology systems

It's lunchtime at the 2019 National Restaurant Show, and the exhibitors have all types of food products and menu items on display.

1:30 pm — Digital Media Slam

Next, we’re learning from big brands like White Castle, Corner Bakery Cafe, Tropical Smoothie Cafe, and Dine Brands about how to incorporate digital media practices into our restaurant marketing plans. We're hearing from:

  • Lynn Blashford of White Castle 
  • Brian Best of Tropical Smoothie Cafe 
  • Donna Josephson of Corner Bakery Cafe 
  • Michael Chachulah of Dine Brands Global, Inc.

A lot of our jobs as restaurant marketers is to tell stories about our brands, and White Castle, once called America’s most iconic burger, decided to take on an “unexpected partnership” with Impossible Foods, a plant-based product. They had fun with it, and the "shocked" messaging caught on on social media.

For a company as large as White Castle, great restaurant marketing is about 1) finding the influencer personalities who genuinely love your product and speak to your target market and 2) building creative campaigns with them. And what do you know: Apparently Wu Tang Clan loves burgers. White Castle and Impossible Foods partnered with Wu Tang Clan to produce videos promoting the sustainability of the planet and awesome burgers. And it worked. But how could it not?

Consumers today are living mobile lives, and IHOP gets that. IHOP’s recent brand campaign to change its name was one of the company’s “best marketing campaigns ever,” and all it cost was one Tweet. 

Looking into 2018, IHOP was in a pinch. The business had been experiencing negative sales and the family dining category was in decline. So they needed to think big. And this campaign was "either going to be the best idea or the worst mistake,” according to Michael.

IHOP is famous for breakfast, but lunch and dinner wasn’t selling. Knowing burgers are the #1 selling product in the U.S., IHOP turned to insight-level product development to identify ingredients and a compelling price point to match their target audience. The new “ultimate steakburger” launched, and it was an instant hit with customers – but IHOP had to convince the world to buy them, and to do that, they needed to change the market’s perception of what their restaurant was. They wanted customers to take them as seriously for burgers as they did for pancakes. So they went for it, changing the company’s name from "IHOP" to "IHOB" and basically blowing up the internet. Some words of advice from Michael for restaurateurs thinking about brand campaigns:

  • Be bold and take some risks

  • Think differently

  • Build new customer muscles

And for IHOP, it worked. Here are the results:

2:00 pm — What Diners Want Today... and What They Will Be Seeking Tomorrow 

Since its inception, Yelp has amassed 1.8 billion searches for “restaurants.” 

As a leading foot-traffic driver for restaurants, Yelp wanted to get at the root of what motivates diners to get off the couch and into restaurants. Upon asking today’s audience, the crowd responded with things like, “don’t want to cook," "socialization," and "to eat good food I didn’t make.”

Here are the results of their recent survey: 

Another factor not in the study? Convenience. This applies to at-home diners and those who want to go out: Searches for waitlists have skyrocketed in 2018-2019. In response, Yelp acquired a waitlist platform called NoWait to help diners get on the waitlist and spend time waiting in the comfort of their homes instead of cold doorway. s

If a review mentions “good service,” it’s 5x more likely to be a five-star review than a one-star review. 

The majority of restaurant searches on Yelp are unbranded, meaning they do not contain a specific restaurant name; instead, searchers are looking for the platform to recommend what the best restaurant choice is for them based on their preferences in that moment. 

Today's Panelists: 

We start out with a question for Sam: What role does technology play in building relationships with your guests? 

The waitlist started as a huge challenge for The New Spot on Polk. Guests were lining up for brunch, and his team wrote down names with pen and paper to then shout out the name to the crowd once it was their turn and hope the person heard. This strategy was a nightmare. Even asking for phone numbers was no good. 

Investing in a technology solution that facilitates reservations and waitlists was a godsend; it took the stress and shouting out of reservations and kept tables turning throughout meal service. 

If your reservation fulfillment platform has a “your table is almost ready” feature like Sam’s does, using it gives people a solid grace period to leave their home and head to the restaurant. The best reservation and waitlist facilitation solutions will allow you to communicate fluidly with your waiting guests. Sam says, "If a guest is running late, it's nice that they connect with me and let me know, and I can respond to them directly on the platform and have a genuine conversation." Sam is then afforded the ability to make seating decisions on the fly – whether to hold the table or give it to another waiting customer and give that original party the next table available. 

When asked the same question, Craig paints the picture by letting the crowd know Batter & Berries does between 475-500 covers on a busy Saturday/Sunday brunch shift. Handheld POS technology helps them get orders in quicker – if a guest doesn’t know how to visualize a dish, the POS has a photo a server can show – but there was an undeniable hold up in the reservation and waitlist process. 

Like Sam, Craig’s team once relied on pen and paper to handle reservations and their waitlist. With this method, they could accommodate 400 covers. His initial worry in switching to reservation tech was the worry that guests would leave, get the text, and the staff would have to wait for them to return. This could not have been farther from the truth — with reservation technology, Batter & Berrie’s eclipsed 500 covers. 

Adopting your strategy by leaning on the data available — whether that’s via online reviews, from your restaurant point of sale, or your restaurant reservation solution — is key to getting butts in seats. 

On the subject of data, we next hear from Shelby about how she uses data to influence her staff training procedures. 

Tortoise Supper Club is like a walk back in time to 1950’s Chicago. Eating at The Tortoise Supper Club is an experience, and it’s important that staff contribute to that experience; an experience is not just shaped by the stuff on the walls. 

Using customer data, one server learned he had a birthday party coming in that night and proceeded to gift them with champagne on the house as a treat. Now, it’s company policy: Any two-top that comes in and it’s their birthday, complimentary champagne to start at the table complete with a signed birthday card. 

The team at Tortoise Supper Club avidly checks their online reviews to learn how to better train their staff to read guests, tailor their recommendations, and create the most authentic dining experience possible. They found, via online reviews, that guests were entranced by the story behind their menu items rather than just being sold on an item. As a result, Shelby has incorporated that into her front-of-house staff training.

“Your job isn’t to sell a product; it's to tell the story, create an experience, and make sure they come see us again,"


Marketing Lead, Tortoise Supper Club, Chicago IL

As the discussion turns to the subject of online reviews, Sam stresses the importance of responding to comments and reviews. Being proactive can not only turn a one time customer into a loyal brand advocate, but you may also win over their friends and family as a result of your warm hospitality, willingness to have a conversation, and interest in turning their experience around. It’s important to respond within 24 hours of a poor review taking place. 

At The Tortoise Supper Club, owner Keene Addington’s philosophy is that a one-, two-, and three-star review isn’t a criticism of the business or product, but a miss on guest expectations. So, when a TTC member reaches out to the one-, two-, and three-star reviewer, they have a conversation centered around getting at the root of what that guest was expecting to experience and how the restaurant missed the mark. 

The next topic is customer acquisition: Each of the panelists are asked, "What are the top customer acquisition channels for you?” 

4For Batter & Berries, it’s Yelp and social media — Instagram and Facebook specifically. 

Managing and curating your online review page on sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor can have a big impact on reputation and customer perception. Craig learned how to upload his own photos of menu items so they show in front of customer uploaded images, and it’s really elevated his online brand.

For Tortoise Supper Club, it’s a mix of Facebook, email, radio, Spotify, and Pandora.

Shelby knows that her customers are checking their email between 7-12 times a day. Within these emails, she tells stories: about the space, the artifacts in it, the why behind the business, and what exactly makes the food so dang good. 

She uses professional photos, and gives her emails an authentic feel by including signatures from the owners, photos of the owners, and quotes about why they added new menu items. 

Shelby advises: If a marketing channel’s demographic information aligns with your clientele then go for it - radio is huge in Chicago for people between 40 and 60, while Spotify and Pandora are cost-effective ways to reach younger audiences. 

As their final question, Sam, Craig, and Shelby were asked to share their "secret to success."

From Sam, a good product and good customer service; these two are the magic to success.

Craig agreed with Sam on that one. Early on, Batter & Berries learned that getting their customers to spread the word about their experience was as easy as outright asking. “Sometimes you have to ask people what you’d like them to do,” said Craig. They used language while table-side like, “If you like what you had, tell everyone,” as well as “post pictures,” and “check-in on Facebook or Instagram.” This, Craig shares, has become their primary marketing tool. 

Shelby’s secret ingredient? Listen more than you speak, a lesson shared by Tortoise Supper Club founder, Keene Addington.  

2:59 pm — A Break for Cake

Verdict: It was good.

3:00 pm — How to Become an Employer of Choice 

When you ask restaurant operators today about the challenges they face in 2019, it’s about finding, retaining, and engaging employees. As competition for restaurant guests gets fiercer, operators need to do the best job they can in recruiting and retaining top talent. But how does a business establish itself as an employer of choice? We heard from Victor Fernandez from TDn2K about the causes of turnover for hourly front-of-house and back-of-house employees and restaurant managers.

According to a study by restaurant analytics platform TDn2K:

  • 69% of restaurants say they’re understaffed in front of house
  • 93% of restaurants say they’re understaffed in back of house
  • 52% of restaurants say they’re understaffed in managers

Victor says the last time the labor market was this tough for restaurants was in 1969, so today, if you’re a restaurant and you need to hire a new server, that person is probably currently working somewhere else. This is why your employer brand is so important.

Turnover continues to rise and voluntary terminations are increasing, so why are your employees leaving and what can you do about it? Here are some of the reasons why employee turnover is so high:

Reasons why non-management employees leave a restaurant: 

  1. Job abandonment 

  2. Personal reasons

  3. Higher paying jobs

Reasons why management employees leave a restaurant: 

  1. Higher paying jobs 

  2. Immediate promotions 

  3. Poor work-life balance 

Working in the restaurant industry means long hours, weekends, and holidays. Restaurant staff know and expect that. But according to Victor, “When restaurant managers are understaffed and turnover is high and they can’t take their kid to basketball on Tuesday night because they have to cover for their host, that’s when it really starts to hurt.”

To solve this problem, restaurants need to offer more support so that managers can manage, coach, and develop. Victor says companies with the lowest management turnover rates have more managers per unit. 

And here’s what’s actually working to increase staff retention in restaurants:

Individual contributors

  • Most effective: Improve candidate selection 
  • Second-most effective: Improve growth and development opportunities
  • Third-most effective: More flexible scheduling


  • Most effective: Improve growth and development 
  • Second-most effective: Increase pay 
  • Third-most effective: Improve training

General managers 

  • Most effective: Increase employee recognition
  • Second-most effective: Improve training 
  • Third-most effective: Improve selection in recruiting

3:30 pm — Harnessing Technology to Drive Off-Premise Sales

With the hype around delivery, takeout, curbside and drive-thru innovation continuing to build momentum, supporting off-premise foodservice occasions in today's on-demand environment is becoming a must for restaurant operators, but it creates both opportunities and challenges.

Melissa Wilson from Technomic, Inc and Hudson Riehle from the National Restaurant Association talked about the trends we’re seeing in diner demands and how restaurants are adopting new technology in response.

We start with some stats:

  • 24% of restaurant operators offer curbside pickup

  • 67% say this technology is more important than it was two years ago

  • 56% of consumers place delivery orders via restaurant’s websites

  • Only 18% of restaurant operators offer mobile ordering via their own app

Technology was the catalyst for this shift we’re seeing to off-premise dining. And Melissa says the future is already here: Consumers are using this technology and expecting us to keep pace, but there’s a technology disconnect on the restaurants’ side.

According to their research, there are several core reasons restaurants don’t invest in technology:

  1. It’s not a priority

  2. High costs

  3. They would need to adjust operations

  4. They don’t have enough buy-in from customers

And the biggest challenges restaurateurs face in adopting technology are:

  1. Teaching employees how to use it

  2. Getting familiar with the technology and training staff in its use

  3. Cost and getting staff and customers to buy in

But you know what? Restaurants are already using exciting and impactful technology that's changing the game for their business.

Diners are already demanding more from their online ordering and delivery tools.

As restaurateurs consider how to adopt to new delivery and online ordering demands from their guests, there are a few key takeaways to keep in mind:

  1. Off-premise dining now accounts for a majority of restaurant occasions, and will continue to grow.

  2. New technology is a critical enabler of growing off-premise sales.

  3. Operators must adapt to meet consumer demand.

According to Hudson, the question is not if you should go after this market; the question is what can you do to go after part of this market right now.

4:30 pm - Modern Restaurant Accounting: Shifting From Cost Center to Trusted Operational Advisor

In the race of running a profitable restaurant, what are your restaurant's primary goals? Morgan Harris, CPA and Co-Founder of Restaurant365, recommends the following:

  1. You need to continually focus on increasing your revenue. “It covers up a lot of sin,” Harris says.

  2. Control your food costs. They can eat up 30% or more of your monthly revenue if left unexamined.

  3. Optimize your labor expenses. "You can’t have 0 labor (even if you want to)," Harris says. Whether you're a new restaurant or re-evaulating your labor overhead, it starts with idealizing the experience you want to provide to guests. Next, hire the people who can provide that experience on a dime, and don't spend a penny more on bells and whistles you think will enhance said experience. 

You need to align your entire restaurant team around the above three goals. It's important to remember that a lot of little missteps over time can quickly add up: Early clock-ins, vendors charging different prices for one of your locations vs another, and unnecessary food waste as a result of poor systems are a few that come to mind. 

"If you’re not aligned, you’re in the way," Harris says. 

Alas, there’s one department that doesn’t meaningfully contribute to these goals, rendering them the dreaded “cost center” status: Your restaurant's accounting department. You need to transition them from a cost center — an area of the business detracting from your bottom line by simply existing — into an operational support center by making recommendations and advising on strategic purchasing and staff scheduling decisions based on your rich sales performance data. 

Empower and train your restaurant accounting team to:

  • Manage and report on inventory

  • Make employee scheduling recommendations based on sales performance data 

  • Inform your overall vendor/distributor purchasing strategy based on your restaurant’s data

  • Keep a close eye on your prime cost report, COGs, and daily sales reports in order to keep your business in the green, never the red. 

Here’s a case for having your restaurant accounting team manage your inventory reports: Anytime you move cash around it creates a debit and a credit, correct? Well, in a restaurant, inventory is cash on your shelves: Everything you do with it creates an accounting transaction, either a debit or a credit. If your inventory tracking solution isn’t tied to your restaurant accounting solution, you are paying people in your business to do something twice. You’re leaving money on the table, seconds on the clock, Harris says. 

Onto prime cost reports: Your prime cost report is, for all intents and purposes, your restaurant’s time clock, Harris says. Reflecting on it during a sales period (during meal-service) can help you empower your team; leaning on your prime cost report retroactively will help you optimize your operations. 

Watch below as Morgan Harris, CPA and Co-Founder of Restaurant365 stresses the importance of investing in a restaurant accounting solution that seamlessly integrates with your restaurant point of sale.

Day 2

8:45 am - We're kicking off Sunday with a video recap of the amazing conversations we had at the Toast booth yesterday.

The topic of discussion? Restaurant technology predictions. Watch below as the restaurant community shares their predictions for what will be the most impactful piece of restaurant technology in the next five years.

9:00 am - Chobani is making oat milk lattes and you best believe we're the first in line. 

Trendy? Yes. Delicious? Oh yes. Phenomenal source of caffeine? YES.

9:30 am — Toast Team huddle at booth #6265. We're ready for day two!

10:00 am — The Case for Opportunity Employment: How to Address Your Business Needs While Doing Good

This conversation is about how investing in historically overlooked populations — both throughout the hiring process and once employed — can meet employers’ talent needs while creating positive social outcomes. 

With high turnover being a challenge of the restaurant industry, we’ll hear from Kim Shin, the associate director of FSG’s Impact Hiring Initiative, and leaders from McDonald’s, MOD Pizza, HMSHost, and Hilton as they discuss their talent challenges, how they addressed them, and what the industry has to gain through this new approach to talent.

We start with a few definitions:

  • Opportunity employment is the recruitment, retention, and advancement of underrepresented populations.

  • Opportunity talent is people from populations that face systemic barriers to employment, such as military veterans and spouses, re-entry workers, people of color, 16-24-year-olds who aren’t in work or school, people with disabilities, refugees, and more.

We’re in a historically tight labor market in the restaurant industry, and the leaders on this panel are passionate about demonstrating the business value of rewiring business practices to improve opportunities for all Americans. Even though labor is tight, great talent is out there, and by investing in opportunity talent, we can take our restaurant businesses into the future.

A few stats from Kim:

  • One in seven 16-24 year olds are "opportunity youth."

  • 38% of military spouses are unemployed.

  • One in three adult Americans have a criminal record.

According to the panel, there are positive benefits to employing people from underrepresented groups for the individuals but also for businesses. The leaders on this panel have seen a number of benefits:

  • Increased retention in employees from underrepresented groups. “Once these folks get in the door at a workplace, they’re loyal and hard working because they know they have a lot to offer.” 

  • Increased retention in the general managers who hire these individuals, because they see the value they’re adding to the community and feel more connected to the business.

  • More diverse teams perform better. There are a ton of studies proving this, and the panel leaders have seen this in real life.

  • Existing employees feel more inspired and engaged with your business and will often raise their hand to be more involved, whether through volunteering or supporting these initiatives. 

  • A boost to purpose-driven restaurants. There’s a ripple effect: It’s not just the impact on the individuals but the community around them. You can bring your business purpose to life and show your community you’re a positive partner and brand.

There are a few ways restaurateurs can take steps toward hiring, training, and retaining opportunity talent.

  • Seek out community-based organizations you can look to for support in hiring opportunity talent.

  • Provide life skills training. “This is not just important to focus on for youth but for anyone who’s coming into the workforce after a gap in work.”

  • Ignore the gaps in employment and look at the skills and experience these people have. Sometimes you have to ask more questions to uncover those skills. Do the work to find the answers.

  • Train your managers and staff on the value of these staff practices and how they can support the initiatives.

  • Flexible hours and remote options make work more accessible for some groups. McDonalds is in every community, providing a culturally and geographically accessible job, which puts them in a great position to have this level of impact on the world.

  • Help people work their way up towards a path to prosperity by gaining skills and experience that help them enter into other jobs in the future.

10:30am —  Menu Forecast for 2020 and Beyond

Which flavors and aromas will be shaking up menus in 2020 and beyond? Foods and flavors that have long-term appeal to customers and help your bottom line, says today’s presenters Lizzy Freir from Technomic and Nancy Kruse, of The Kruse Company

During the past five years, only three of the 23 biggest entree categories have seen an increase; of the 18 top appetizer categories, only six have seen increases. 

So, how are restaurant owners and operators, chefs and kitchen managers keeping their menus fresh? Limited time offers (LTOs), specials, and add-ons – there’s been a 63% increase over the past five years. 

Now, let’s dive into the biggest menu trends you can expect to see on plates and in glasses in 2020 and beyond.  

First up, we touch on the macro trend spanning all industries and applicable to meal-service no matter the time of day: Health

Here are the lifestyle and diet plans that are currently trending: 

  • Paleo
  • Keto
  • Whole 30
  • Vegetarianism 
  • Gluten-Free 

Did you know that 38% of consumers are interested in Paleo? When it comes to gluten-free options, 11% are committed to it as a lifestyle choice - but the majority don’t really know what gluten-free is. This number does not include those who are living with gluten-intolerance-related gastrointestinal diseases. The other 89% who do eat grains are looking for restaurants to incorporate healthy grains into their menu items. 

Alternative milks have grown in popularity as a response to dairy-free lifestyles and lactose-intolerant customers: hazelnut and cashew milk top the list, especially with Gen Z and Millennial diners.

Proteins and plant-based protein substitutes like blended burgers and outright plant-based meat alternatives are popular with meat and non-meat eating diners. Mushroom has risen over cauliflower in popularity as a meat or grain substitute; we’re even seeing mushrooms included in cocktails.

That being said: Beef isn’t going anywhere, but the way we approach meat quality, safety, and animal welfare has improved substantially. Wendy’s, for example, works directly with USDA auditors to ensure every patty in every location adheres to the strict safety and quality standards consumers demand. 

Now that you have a handle on the trending tastes in restaurant’s today, let’s look ahead to 2020 and beyond.

Here are the biggest flavor and food trends Lizzy and Nancy foresee making their way first into independent restaurants and then into emerging chains. 

Functional foods and/or remedies: These are ingredients that fix something in the body that’s naturally failing or needs enhancing, like an individual's outward appearance, physical health, emotional health, or mental health. 

Some examples include: 

  • Collagen and golden berries, which have been linked to weight loss.

  • Mushrooms and MCT oil, which have been linked to improving brain health.

  • Turmeric and nutritional yeast, which have been linked to improving brain health and gastrointestinal health.

  • CBD Oil, which has been linked to improved relaxation and assuaging bodily aches and pains.

Brands are also re-evaluating the inclusion of high-fat and/or high calorie ingredients — at the urging of their younger customer bases — and swapping in what Lizzy calls “healthful teases.” 

Not only do these replacements improve health and overall body function, but they also help the environment by reducing demand for products responsible for increasing our overall carbon footprint. 

Some examples include: 

  • Plant-based proteins and plant-based meat alternatives, like the Impossible and Beyond burgers. Operators, chefs, and kitchen managers are taking these products beyond the bun, like in the case of Arooga’s, who put “ground” meat alternatives on their nachos. 

  • Jackfruit: When prepared correctly, jackfruit makes a solid meat-free pulled pork alternative.

  • Coconut flakes, tamari, and smoke: Combined, they create a tasty vegan bacon. 

  • Plant-based seafood and egg alternatives: Crafted using mung bean or hearts of palm. 

Moving on from health, the next menu trend Lizzy and Nancy foresee coming to a concept near you (or maybe even your own) is found at the intersection of globalization, increased international immigration, and geo-politics: Asian fare and Middle Eastern fare. 

Chinese-inspired ingredients, foods, and flavors:

  • General Tso’s sauce ON EVERYTHING – Some have used it as a burger marinade, others as a chicken wing flavor, others use it as a condiment. This sauce is a Chinese-American creation with Hunan roots. 

  • Kung-pow crossover, specifically into sushi.

  • Chinese chile crisp as a topping on meatballs.

  • Baiju spritzes on cocktail menus. These drinks leverage the summer 2018 Aperol Spritz boom.

Korean-inspired ingredients, foods, and flavors:

  • Kimchi: In a remoulade, kimcheese, or made with other fermented foods beyond cabbage, like dill kimchi. 43% of Kimchi menu appearances are in the form of add-ons. 

  • Gochujang: As an aioli or sauce; some consider gochujang “the next sriracha.”

Japanese-inspired ingredients, foods, and flavors:

  • Ramen burger buns

  • Edamame

  • Furikake 

  • Seared tuna

  • Asian pear in miso, leveraged as a vinaigrette

  • Japanese whiskey. Did you know 59% of new whiskey cocktails are Japanese whiskey-based? 

  • Gomashio on fried chicken

  • Yuzukoso on chicken wings

Here are some of the Middle Eastern-inspired ingredients, flavors, and foods currently emerging:

  • Chickpeas – They’re cheap, versatile, and nutritious. Chickpea ice cream offers diners a delicious, dairy-free, nut-free, vegan dessert option; same, too, with chocolate- or dessert-flavored hummus, like maple or vanilla.  

  • Toum - A Lebanese condiment ("Toum" means garlic in Lebanese) made of garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt to taste. Toum was profiled in Better Homes & Gardens' emerging condiments run-down. 

  • S’chug (spelling is regionalized) - S’chug adds a flavorful heat to dishes, made with cilantro, cumin, and chilies. Starbucks just added it to their new chicken salad. 

  • Kebabs - Kebabs have been around for a while now, but as owners and operators look for protein options that allow for better portion, cost, and food waste control, kebabs have seen a renaissance. Kebabs are also portable: According to GrubHub, kebabs were in the top three delivery foods this past year. 

  • Israeli salad - nicknamed “middle eastern salsa,” Israeli salad has roots in Turkey and is made from cucumbers, tomatoes, olive oil, and salt; it’s traditionally eaten as a breakfast dish. Considering American tourism to Israel peaked in 2018, it’s no wonder American tourists return home and look for Israeli dishes to extend their experience. 

  • Spice blends – Spice blends offer a way for operators, chefs, and kitchen managers to use rich Middle Eatern flavors while making a flavor profile unique to your restaurant. 

  • Selanjabin (honey vinegar and mint) included in martinis.

  • Jalib (cardamom) as a flavoring in cocktails.

Next, we set our sights beyond 2020, as Lizzy and Nancy share their long-term predictions for menus in America:

  1. A wide-scale re-examination of kids’ menus. Millennial diners are health-conscious, favoring sustainably, locally sourced ingredients, and an emphasis on the need for an ethical approach to food systems. By 2026, 80% of Millennials will be parents, meaning they will influence the future of kid's menus around the country. Big brands like McDonald’s have responded by removing antibiotics and artificial ingredients from their kids menu.

  2. CBD in beverages. According to a 2019 menu trend survey conducted by The National Restaurant Association, CBD takes the top spot as the #1 drink trend this year. What’s interesting about this is that CBD wasn’t even on the list in 2018. Beyond beverages, we’re seeing restaurants experiment with CBD as a relaxing dessert ingredient: Astro Doughnuts has created a CBD-infused buttercream frosting.
  3. THC in beverages. It’s important to note that two chemicals can be derived from the cannabis plant: CBD has no psychoactive effects and is largely used for medicinal purposes, whereas THC does have psychoactive effects, known to cause a “high.” THC is the main component in marijuana. In states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use, like California, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Oregon, brands like Lagunitas and California Dreamin’ have begun experimenting with THC bottled/canned seltzer beverages for 21+ consumption. 
  4. The Next Rosé is... lambrusco and/or orange natural wine. Lambrusco is an Italian, fizzy, red wine; orange natural wine is a sweet, orange colored wine made from (you guessed it) fermented oranges. 
  5. Menu items that look good in a video. In 2018, sparkle, glitter, and rainbow reigned supreme in viral menu items, from Starbucks's Unicorn Frappuccino to rainbow bagels. These menu items played to consumer demand for Instagrammable foods. Video, boomerangs, and gifs have overtaken simple photos in popularity, and diners have since pivoted to demanding food that looks great in a video. Butterfly pea flower is a great option: Yard House is currently using it as a key ingredient in their Magic Margarita. When added to alcohol, butterfly pea flower causes the cocktail to change color. 

11:00 am — How Retailers Intend to Eat Your Lunch (and Breakfast, too)

Convenience stores, stores with checkout-free shopping, and even retailers like clothing and book stores are intensifying their efforts to steal meal occasions and snack sales from traditional restaurants. So we’re back at the learning center again this morning to understand the impact retail is having on customer traffic to restaurants.

Experts from the retailing world, Jackson Lewis from Winsight Media and Frank Beard from Gas Buddy, offer a look at how forward-looking retailers intend to raid restaurants’ turf with menu innovations and new technology. Fun fact: Frank is a consumer and convenience expert who once ate exclusively at gas stations for a whole month to prove there are healthy options. 

Jackson says the real profit-driver for convenience stores these days is food service, which is why restaurateurs might increasingly see their customers purchasing food from retail and quick-service convenience establishments.

Frank says 78% of baby boomers say they visit convenience stores once a month, but that same percent of Millennials and Gen Z say they visit convenience stores once a week. This is why convenience stores are becoming a competitive threat to restaurants.

What strategies and tactics can restaurateurs build into our plans for 2019 and beyond? Consider how you can make your establishment more accessible to customers who are on the go, through things like:

  • Grab-and-go options

  • Affordable snack menu items

  • Easy order-ahead and pickup

  • Fast wifi and free coffee during downtimes
  • Faster table-turnaround times

11:30 am — Juiced up on Data — Why BI is the Secret Ingredient to Jamba Juice's Success

Restaurants generate a ton of data: sales in your point of sale, labor data through your restaurant payroll tool, food and beverage inventory, it goes on. But that data is meaningless unless you can turn it into something actionable. The problem is, you can’t fix what you can’t see. In this session, we’re learning how Jamba Juice was able to improve data accuracy, streamline communications among their departments, and reduce COGS by 6% through the use of business intelligence. 

Raul Celorio, of ResureTek says, "We accumulate so much data across our systems, but our restaurant technology tools don’t always talk to each other, making it difficult for us to access the valuable information we need." 

Restaurateurs don’t have time to crunch these numbers, so both technology companies and restaurant owners and operators need to create more opportunities for any user to access this data. Raul calls this “data democracy — making data available to the non-technical user without direct support from finance, accounting, or IT.” 

Data needs to be approachable and easy to digest, and when it is, data democracy can save businesses time and money. Here are some examples of how Jamba Juice uses data to improve productivity and profitability.

  • Jamba Juice does inventory on Mondays, and every Monday Raul gets a call from a district manager saying, “I blew out my COGS this week.” So he looks at the data to figure out where to make a tweak or a change to save money. By looking at positive and negative variance, he sees that several locations are purchasing bananas outside of the system, which is an issue that can be easily solved to fix spend.

  • Jamba Juice’s line assembly is a well-oiled machine, and ingredient usage can be tracked to the scoop. If only a few staff members in a few locations are over-filling those scoops, it has a big impact on the larger business’ COGS. Being able to itemize and track ingredient usage down to this level through data is critical.

  • There is such a thing as too much data, so don’t overwhelm your users. Make information obvious and available. When Jamba Juice HQ crunches the numbers and distributes them to unit managers, they display core data with traffic-light colors to help managers easily identify and focus on the data that matters most to their location. 

Ultimately, it’s important to purchase technology from providers that enable you to access your data through their systems. 

The last thought they leave us with is this: Once you have access to your data, consider how you can incorporate cultural changes within your organization to encourage your employees to action on that data. Create opportunities through training and accessible data insights so that your team members can be curious and learn from what the data is telling them. This will ultimately help your restaurant business become more profitable.

12:00 pm – How Bots Can Turn Your Restaurant Back-Office into a Profit Center

So, what's the big deal with bots? It seems every technology blog these days is all about bots, bots, bots. Considering human error on data entry hovers near 25% yet drops to below 15% when used in conjunction with bots, it makes perfect sense bots are on the brain. 

If your restaurant books were to be audited tomorrow, would there be mistakes? Yes! Humans make mistakes. However, with the advent of machine learning based on human touch, restaurants that use bots in their back office see their audit error rate drop to below .03%. 

By automating data entry, calculations, and report generation, bots open a new world of reporting and analytics for your restaurant. 

So how does AI work? Machine learning approaches restaurant management by asking the following questions: 

Phase 1: What’s happening now in this business?  The machine is able to then do calculations based on multiple data points to say whats happening today.

Phase 2: What data do I — the machine — need to know to make a decision? 

Phase 3: What would I — the machine — recommend?*
*humans will affirm or tweak those recommendations 

AI and machine learning improves constantly: The more it's used and data is contributed to its stores, the more it can 'learn' and improve. 

In restaurants specifically, AI can:

  • Collect important data from siloed sources — your restaurant POS, payroll and accounting, and reservation platform data, for example — into one place.

  • Understand and learn the nuances of your business, from workflows to categorizations to classifications. It can then employ "if this, that" logic: If I see this data type, then I know to put it here or there.

  • Categorize and organize data so it can be queried and called up at any time.

  • Automate data entry and all tedious back-office tasks.

  • Push data entry into your restaurant accounting or payroll solution.

  • Find ways to maximize profit and reevaluate vendor relationships.

12:30 pm — The Benefits of Waste Reduction and How to Achieve Them

Is your restaurant on a path to a waste-free future? Consumer expectations, tastes, and preferences are changing, and this is redefining the pace by which we need to adapt. Today’s diners, especially younger consumers, view food waste reduction as important for the environment. 

Speaker Kathryn Fenner, from Technomic, tells us how big of an issue this is:

  • Foodservice generates 16 million tons of food waste annually, and 25% of total food waste is in the U.S.

  • 8 in 10 consumers think reducing food waste is an important sustainability initiative.

  • 27% of consumers are willing to pay more at restaurants that focus on reducing their food waste.

  • 42% of diners are more likely to visit a restaurant that implements food waste initiatives.

  • 96% of operators think food waste reduction is important.

  • Only 1 in 5 consumers are aware of restaurants that are implementing food waste initiatives.

  • 54% of restaurant operators have conducted a food waste audit either internally or through a third-party provider.

The good news is that waste reduction practices provide operational benefits as well, including cost reduction and greater customer loyalty. In this session, we’re learning about how restaurants can achieve the benefits of food waste reduction through menu and operational innovation. Here are some of the trending approaches Kathryn says restaurants are taking to reduce food waste:

  • Using technology to optimize food inventory and ordering

  • Increasing made-to-order options

  • Offering simplified menus

  • Recycling cooking oil

  • Re-using, repurposing, and up-cycling edible foods by using multiple cuts and parts of an ingredient for multiple menu items

  • Serving smaller portions

  • Up-cycling furniture or design features

  • Using imperfect produce or “cosmetically challenged” vegetables

  • Donating leftover produce and ingredients to local communities — platforms like Spoiler Alert can help you promote leftover food

  • Composting food scraps 

  • Embracing nose-to-tail dining and using whole animals

  • Reducing packaging by buying from suppliers with strong recycling and bulk-packaging efforts

As a restaurant, it’s just as important to promote your use of these techniques as it is to actually do them. Consumers are increasingly interested in how their dining habits affect the environment, so explain the initiatives you’re implementing to your customers through your communication campaigns.

By embracing waste reduction, Kathryn says, you can improve efficiency, reduce costs, drive more guest traffic, and improve your brand reputation. To develop a strategy for waste management, ask yourself, “What’s my goal?” The answer to this question, whether it be reducing costs or promoting your business’ positive impact on the community, will help you determine which initiatives to prioritize.

1:30 pm — Culinary Demo with Andrew Zimmern

Zimmern kicked off his culinary demo to a packed house by talking about the positive impact restaurants can have in connecting people. “In restaurants, we haven’t always done a good job at celebrating diversity and global cuisines, but in my opinion, we all win when we all win.”  

Zimmern talked about what would happen if we all sunk a ton of money into a country like Haiti, where we could grow unique crops and invest in the local food industry with the purpose of having a true positive impact on the area. “It’s important, as culinarians, that we support all kinds of ideas in food. I believe deeply in the power of adventure learning, so I love doing dishes from other cultures and parts of the world.”

1:45 pm — Build a Better Burger: How to Raise Your Price Point But Not Your Labor

The secret? Grass-fed patties

They have an 80/20 lean to fat ratio, they're rich in Omega 3s and linoleic acids, they're stored frozen — with a shelf life of 180 days, four days if thawed — and they make a phenomenal upsell option for your staff. Charge customers a premium price for choosing a grass-fed patty over a traditional beef patty and you’ll make more money without increasing your labor costs. 

2:00 pm — Signature 2019: The Future of Dining

It’s 1:49, and the crowd is flowing into the grand ballroom for one of the biggest sessions of the show. 

This year’s “Signature,” the show’s most prominent session, is a panel discussion about the future of dining. Moderated by Dawn Sweeney, President & CEO of the National Restaurant Association, this session is a conversation with key leaders about their thoughts on where, when, what, and how people will dine in the coming years. These leaders represent industry segments like QSR, full-service dining, c-stores, and grocery.

The National Restaurant Association kicked off the event with a video about how the restaurant industry has changed over the years. Apparently, at the first-ever National Restaurant Show, 100 years ago, the themes of the day focused on “labor challenges, spiking food costs, and government interference.” 

The crowd laughed. Sounds familiar, right?

The panelists introduced themselves and their businesses.

John Cywinski, President of Applebee's: “2018 was the best performance for our brand in the past 25 years. This is a tough industry, so we don’t take that for granted, and we’re proud of where we are.”

Randy Edeker, Chairman of the Board, CEO, & President Hy-Vee: “Hy-Vee is a 90-year old brand, and for us it’s about following the customers — their lifestyles, needs, and desires — and providing what they want. We’ve evolved with our customers as best we can, and that’s how we speak to survival as a brand.”

Chris Gheysens, President & CEO of Wawa: “We’re a convenience store, but we think of ourselves as a restaurant-to-go. The culture that underpins our business is a melting pot of Philadelphia culture, being private, taking a long-term point-of-view, and putting employees first.”

Tim McEnery, Founder & CEO of Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurants: “Our mission statement is that we create community. It’s about the authentic connections we try to make with our guests. The secret sauce for us, outside of the 5,000 wonderful people who work with us, is the relationship with have with our guests. It’s the authenticity of how we operate our business and create our food, how we onboard and train people. These things have enabled us to have the success we have.”

First, Dawn asks the panel about the increasing trend in off-premise dining. How do our panelists think about their business’ on-premise and off-premise options helping them be where their customers want them to be?

Dawn: “Businesses like Amazon are changing consumers’ perceptions of what’s reasonable in convenience. How do we keep up?”

Chris: "When you think about the desire for convenience, that’s now all online. Delivery and the on-demand economy is a delivery business. The broader thing for us is the last mile, which is something Amazon has talked about a lot. What role can we play, broader than food, in the last mile? We’re delivering well into areas where we don’t have stores, and if you’re located anywhere near a university, you’ll do well with delivery. We’re leaning on data to inform that.”

John: "Our objective in the off-premise space is to ensure Applebee's is top-of-mind. We’re a dine-in business, but today 13% of our business is primarily to-go. Third-party delivery is fascinating, because it’s exploding. Our view is that it’s being driven by Millennials, Gen X, and women. We love that segment of the business, and it’ll represent more than 25% of our revenue within three years. But the unit economics needs to work for our franchise partners. They secure full margin for dine-in guests and to-go, but they don’t secure full margin today with delivery. The current economic model is not sustainable, and it needs to evolve. We’re partnering with third-party delivery companies to ensure it works for our franchisees.”

Randy: “A young lady said to me recently, ‘I want you to be what I want you to be when I need you, and if you’re not, I’ll go some place else.’ The evolution is experimental right now. We’ve launched app ordering with our own app that we deliver on now. We’re keeping a focus on excellence and delivering quality through all of it.”

And what about wine delivery?

Tim: “Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. To try and add delivery to our model, we wouldn’t be doing our operators any favors. We let the big operators figure out all the bugs and then we’ll jump in (laughs). We try to do everything very thoughtfully, so we’re taking our time. But it’s an incredible opportunity.”

The next question from Dawn was about inspiration, competition, and what each of the panelists would emulate from each other's businesses.

John: “We all compete for share-of-stomach. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner, or late-night. There aren’t many new ideas in the restaurant space, but when we find one, we capitalize on it.” 

Dawn: “And the consumer wins when that happens.”

Tim: “We’re huge admirers, and it forces us to look at our business and make it better every day.”

Chris: “In every convenience store, sugary, salty snacks and soft drinks are in decline. We’re looking at new ways to grow, and we take menu inspiration from the folks in this room all the time.”

Randy: “Competition helps raise the bar. Attitudes are evolving, and if you’re going to do it, do it in a way that’s meaningful and sustainable and with purpose. We’re constantly watching and learning from what others are doing.”

Next question from Dawn: “Ideas, execution, or resources? Which one, on a daily basis, is most difficult for you and your brand?”

Tim: “Execution is the name of the game in our industry.”

Chris: “Execution. We can garner the resources, we have plenty of ideas, but execution is the most complex.”

Randy: “Execution. It’s the little things that kill you.”

John: “I admire those who execute consistently well. A great idea without execution is meaningless.”

Dawn: “What’s the most important thing you have to get right to make sure you have the confidence to grow?”

Randy: “We’ll open a 90,000 square-foot floor with 70,000 different items, and the most important thing is the one person standing in front of you. If you can make them feel special and important and leave with an experience that makes them want to come back, it works.”

John: “It always comes down to the general managers. I can have an average location and a great GM and it’ll hum. It’s leadership — it always has been. We see tremendous correlation between tenure and retention and average sales and growth. Our best-performing franchises have leaders who create a culture that people want to be a part of. That’s the secret, in my opinion.”

Chris: “I worry most now about the pace of change. It’s happening more quickly. Simple ingredients take only months to take off. Customers are getting more picky and demanding more quickly. I worry about how we’re prepared for that pace of change organizationally.”

Tim: “It’s our people, for sure. What is a great person? For us, it’s about discovering the values that are enabling our success. We’ve identified four values, and those filters are a part of everything we do, from the interview process to the training process and even the off-boarding process. Not everyone has those values, and some people weight them differently, so understanding the right great people for your organization is critical.”

Dawn: "What will your brands be like in 10 years?"

John: “I like the position the restaurant industry has at the moment. Americans are stressed, they don’t have a lot of time, and we’re that little, indulgent escape. I believe we fill the role of human connection. Technology and automation will be there, and we’ll probably need less people to run an Applebee's, but the human connection will always be there.”

Randy: "The opportunity has never been as strong as it is. Think about the diversification of our industry. In a lot of companies, you have leeway for folks to experiment and show what they’re made of. The biggest word for us has been ‘autonomy.’ We’re very decentralized. Employees should have the ability to adapt to what the customer wants, when they want it. The opportunity for young people today is enormous.”

Chris: “Strong emotional intelligence leads to great leadership. We’re focused on analytics and being able to manage data and get wisdom out of it. I think restaurants will need to do what Amazon does — match that level of personalization that customers are going to expect. Having that analytical, critical thinking, coupled with being an emotionally intelligent leader, will be important.”

Tim: “We talk about ourselves as being life-long learners. We all pick up on change quickly, and it happens fast, but we look to other industries to help innovate what we’re doing and keep up with the pace of change.”

2:58 pm — We're seeing a lot of plant-based foods.

3:00 pm — The Key Characteristic of High-Performing GMs: Forecasting Competency

As the restaurant business continues to go through significant disruption due to rapid growth, technology, consumer preference, and the rising cost of labor, the ability to predict performance is more important than ever. David Cantu, Founder and Chief Customer Officer at HotSchedules, passes on what he’s learned during the past 20 years about the impact of consistent forecasting on general manager performance and success.

Here’s what we know about the issue, according to David:

  • 37% of manager turnover is in full-service establishments.
  • 44% of manager turnover in limited-service establishments.
  • 19% of restaurants are short-staffed with GMs.

So why do general managers leave their employers? 

  • Work-life balance. Because there are fewer managers today, the managers who do exist have less support, which only compacts the impact of stress and long hours.

  • Pay. David says general managers aren’t making more than they were 10 years ago. Hourly rates have gone up over the years, but salaries have stayed stagnant.

  • Lack of training. Our industry is lacking the resources to provide managers with the right restaurant education and certifications. Many of our restaurants today are being led by inexperienced and untrained managers.

Here are David’s six tips to building high-performing managers.

  1. Design your day in the life of management. Too often, there’s a lack of discipline and consistency in daily restaurant work. Operationalize the day-to-day as much as possible.

  2. Write better job descriptions. Review other job ads online to create clear, concise, and inspiring descriptions of who your particular business is looking for. This will help you attract the right talent for your restaurant.

  3. Create a development path. Too many managers are thrown out onto the floor. Employees today want to be developed and coached, and there are tools out there to help you plan and implement training and development paths.

  4. Provide tools to plan. David says most general managers spend about five minutes forecasting for the week. But today, GMs should be using tools and data to analyze the past six weeks and plan out the next week, looking at the things that might impact their businesses: How will holidays impact employee scheduling and labor planning, for example? GMs used to bring institutional knowledge to their restaurants, but because of high turnover in managers, that knowledge is lost with the departing employee. Technology can replace that lost intuitive knowledge by allowing GMs to use data.

  5. Provide tools to engage and connect. When you’re communicating with team members today, the last thing you want to do is text. Communication that isn’t housed in your HR platform can be dangerous, and unprofessional communication like this adds to the perception that restaurant industry “isn’t a real career.” You need to treat restaurant work "like a real job,” says David. You should also use employee communication technology to give employees a tool to have a voice and provide feedback. For example, taking a daily employee NPS poll where employees can rate their shifts.

  6. Sharpen characteristics that inspire high-performing teams. David explains how Bain & Company discovered the 33 characteristics of inspiring leaders. Talk to your team about what makes a great leader in your business, and define those characteristics for your restaurant with your manager team.

And the closing thought from David: If your managers are successful, your employees will be successful. If your employees are successful, your guests will be happy. And that’s how to run a successful restaurant.

3:00 pm – Reimagining the Drive-Through in a Connected Age

You’ve challenged yourself and your restaurant management team to think outside the box and innovate in the face of market saturation, uncontrollable costs, and hefty employee turnover. Great! But now that you’ve ‘innovated,’ how do you scale that new idea to be incorporated across all of your locations? Better yet: How do you use that innovative approach to grow your restaurant into a multi-unit enterprise? 

Technology is the obvious answer, but that’s so broad. Let’s zoom in on consumer behavior and preference. Today’s consumers are sophisticated technology users: The average American household has 5.2 devices. This provides brands with a multitude of touch-points to interact with consumers and for a consumer to interact with a brand. 

With the advent of at home smart speakers — think Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Google Home — we’ve officially been ushered into the age of voice:

  • There are 120 million smart speakers in homes across America

  • 74.2 million Americans use smart speakers monthly

  • 62% of speaker owners have bought items via voice commerce

  • Voice shopping via at-home smart speakers is projected to reach $40 million by 2022

However, only 7.9% of at-home smart speaker users are voice shopping for food and drink today. This makes the food and beverage space a largely un-penetrated area. Presenter Stephane Wyper thinks people need to get more comfortable with voice ordering and its reliability first before going full monty and using it to source meals. 

Back to the 5.2 devices per household stat: The wide-spread usage by today’s technology users has left us with 2.7 zetabytes of data. How much is that? If you were to give every person on this earth — all 7 billion of us — 14 thousand books, that would equal 2.7 zetabytes. 

All of this is fine and good, but how do you make this data useful for your restaurant? 

Well, in recent years, there’s been a 64% increase in demand for personalized experiences from consumers. Back in 2012, 91% of retail was happening in the physical world, not online. This is when displays and touches came into play: From self-ordering kiosks in Toys R’ Us that made toy recommendations via details about your child and their preferences — then where to find their recommended toy in store — to way-finding experiences in malls that act as 3D navigation and increased sales for brick and mortar retail locations, self-ordering kiosks proved early on that technology could provide a reliable, personalized experience for consumers around the county. 

Self-service kiosks have since become mainstream. We see them in ticketing at airports, check out at grocery stores, and acting as the default payment module at gas stations. 

The restaurant point of sale is becoming smarter with the help of progressive machine learning and artificial intelligence. Mainly learning from customer behavior, point of sale technology that leans on machine learning and AI to make sales recommendations by factoring in weather, restaurant sales history, the amount of servers on staff and ability to fulfill orders, and inventory available in stock.

Restaurants that employ self-ordering kiosks see their guests spend 20-30% more because the customer can see and make decisions about their order before it’s their turn, including add ons. Guests also enjoy increased order accuracy since they’re the ones doing the order-inputting.  

Self-ordering kiosks can also be used to upsell menu items to increase ticket size. In the case of one restaurant franchise, they did a test with an “opt out cookie”: the restaurant automatically added a cookie to every order but gave the customer the option to opt out; 99% of customers kept the cookie in their cart. The restaurant eventually had to remove the opt out cookie because their kitchen couldn’t keep up with the demand!

Big brands, like McDonald’s and Sonic, have been early adopters in the self-ordering kiosk craze.

This week, Sonic is rolling out voice AI drive-through technology to every location in the U.S. What’s the metric they’re watching? Throughput. These self-ordering, AI-powered kiosks let multiple people order at the same time and have the same experience across the board without having to wait for someone to talk to. This means Sonic can accommodate more customers at any given time without compromising the quality of their guest experience, a phenomenal example of innovation at scale. 

The Sonic technology also uses natural language processing to detect accents and language inflections, then customizes the ordering experience with a tailored voice in order to provide a unique experience tailored to each customer. 

These smart, self-ordering kiosks also lean on AI to power upselling. Here’s an example: On an 80+ degree day, the screen can recommend a refreshing slush, then follow up with the most popular options on the menu. Restaurants like Sonic are able to improve their margins with intelligent cross-selling

Here are three additional benefits of using AI and machine learning in conjunction with your restaurant point of sale: 

  • Loyalty — restaurant point of sale systems that integrate AI and machine learning can enhance their restaurant loyalty program with the wealth of customer data they collect. They can then send tailored messages around upcoming promotions, upsell based on that customer’s buying behavior, and more. 

  • Analytics — not only will you have rich sales data, but AI and machine learning can make inferences about customer behavior. Some examples: Why do people order X when the weather is Y? People in Region A share buying behavior with people in Region B we should tailor a marketing campaign around them. 

  • Personalized Guest Experiences — in presenter Healy Cypher’s opinion, no menu should ever be the same for any two guests. He believes restaurant point of sale systems that integrate AI and machine learning have the competitive edge to tailor their menu to every guest, providing a unique and memorable dining experience every time. 

4:45 pm — It's happy hour at the Toast booth, and we're celebrating another day done.

Before we depart for the day, we wanted to introduce you to three people who have been working tirelessly to make sure Toast shows up for our community during this event. So much love, time, and thought goes into events like this, and we wouldn't be here without everyone on the Toast team who's played a part in making the magic happen.

We've had a killer day chatting with customers, partners, and new friends, and it's time to sign off. Get some good sleep, everyone, and we'll see you bright and early for day three.

Day 3 8:30 am — Welcome to day three of the 100th annual National Restaurant Association Show. 

How's everybody feeling? Aching feet? Full of carbs? Under-caffeinated?

Us, too. But we're pumped about all of the sessions, talks, and panels today.

To kick off day three, here's a video recap of the amazing conversations we had with attendees at the Toast booth yesterday. The topic of discussion? The modern restaurant workforce. We asked people what's so amazing about their restaurant staff, and their responses were heart-warming.

10:00 am — Inside Out: Workplace Culture and the Guest Experience

A positive workplace, where all employees feel included and respected, can translate into an amazing experience for your guests. Beyond liability issues, restaurants that take measures to prevent harmful behavior like harassment, discrimination, and bias create a place where employees want to shine and guests want to visit. 

This morning’s discussion is led by professionals from the National Restaurant AssociationBrinker InternationalOrange Leaf, and Chipotle who have taken the right precautions to create and manage a successful and safe workplace of their own.

Elizabeth from the National Restaurant Association says, “In the past, harmful behavior like harassment and discrimination have been accepted as part of the restaurant industry, but today, that’s changing.”

First, the panelists introduce themselves.

  • Michelle Lange from Chipotle: “Our purpose is to cultivate a better world, and we believe that if people can bring their authentic selves to work, you can thrive in that environment, which cultivates a better work environment and a better world.”
  • Kendall Ware from Orange Leaf: “Our mission is to make life sweeter for anybody who’s involved in our brand, whether that’s the guest, the employee, or our vendors.”
  • Nicole DaCosta from Chili’s: “For us, at Chili’s, it’s all about making people feel special. How do we continue to get back to our roots, and in that creating a place where people can come as they are and enjoy themselves? For us, it comes back to how are we embracing many people from different cultures and landscapes in our workplace to make our guests feel special?”

How can restaurateurs start creating safe and inclusive work environments?

  • Nicole: “It comes back to training, systems, and processes, and how we take that from all levels of the organization. We need to make sure our team members and managers are equipped with the tools they need. When restaurants aren’t prepared, it can really derail your organization.”
  • Kendall: “Create an open environment where people feel comfortable to communicate and keep you in the loop of what truly is going on.”
  • Michelle: “At Chipotle, we have a pretty hard stance on harassment, and it’s ‘no bueno,’ just don’t do it. We have a lot of young people working for us who might not know what harassment is, so we need to train them and show them what it looks like so we can protect them and make sure they feel safe in their working environment.”

And what role can restaurant leadership have?

  • Kendall: “The number one thing you can do as a leader is to make sure it’s talked about. It’s overall education and awareness — it can’t be something that's assumed.”

Are there specific steps your organization has taken to combat harassment and discrimination?

  • Nicole: “When we had an incident at Chili’s, it wasn’t just about that one incident. You need systems and processes to support the organization. How are leaders sending the right message about who we are, what we believe, and what’s not tolerated in our organization? This translates to a variety of training. Yes, we have compliance training, but it can’t just be a one-time, check-the-box initiative — it’s an ongoing conversation.”
  • Michelle: “A lot of times we lack training on the soft skills people need to be able to do their jobs.” 
  • Kendall: “Most communication today with young adults is through their phones. That [communication] can be perceived differently in-person than in-text. A lot of people aren’t used to face-to-face interaction anymore. We need to provide training to get them to that point.”

What are the major challenges our industry faces when dealing with harassment or bias?

  • Michelle: “A lot of us now are using third-party delivering services. I’m passionate about how can we train that Doordash driver to provide the same service as a Chipotle employee would at our restaurant. We need to figure out what we can do as an industry.” 
  • Kendall: “It starts with the terminology. I think the word ‘customer’ is a bad word. I think it leads to the wrong perception. ‘Customer’ is very transactional. We have to shift that mindset. In the restaurant business, it’s all about having ‘guests.’ The number one place to start is educating our team members on the difference.”
  • Nicole: “When we think about our team members and the communities we serve, we should think about how we’re reflecting those communities. How good are we at understanding those communities? How are we reaching out to them, and getting to know the leaders who can support your business and understand the demographics you’re serving?”

What’s the role of training in addressing harassment and bias while also improving the guest experience? 

  • Kendall: “If you’re using an online training, make it a prerequisite but also make it accessible after the fact. It’s important to have something that’s reachable within the team member's eyes.”
  • Michelle: “The more visual you can make your training materials, the more the training will stick. Train your trainers to recognize that people learn different, so being able to tailor materials to that is important.
  • Nicole: “I think it’s [training] absolutely essential and necessary. We all know common sense isn’t common. We need to have conversations about what unconscious bias might look like. We walk around on a daily basis carrying our own baggage, and so do our guests. How are we leaning into empathy and understanding? At the end of the day, we want to give them a great experience while honoring who they are.”

10:00 am — Creating a Beverage Menu for The Future

It’s 10:00 am we’re talkin’ cocktails. 

If you’re in the mood to spring clean your restaurant drink list, here are some of the big trends in the beverage space to take inspiration from. 

Beverage Trend #1: Health and Wellness

What makes a food item or drink “healthy”? It’s likely nutrient dense, low in fat, low sugar or sugar free, and includes "better-for-me" ingredients. 

  • 40% of consumers admitted that their definition of health has evolved in the past two years.

  • 66% of consumers look at calories on menus at least some of the time.

Here are some of the more popular ways restaurants are making their menus healthier:

  • Reducing sugar

  • Employing clean labeling (doesn’t necessarily mean health)

  • Cutting calories

  • Including options for special diets, like keto (Bulletproof coffee is a great keto-friendly drink), paleo, vegan, and gluten-free

In a recent New York Times piece analyzing the link between our psyche and the food we eat, they included a profile of a patient who was recently prescribed oysters. Yes, you read that right: prescribed oysters. Rich in protein, oysters are also high in omega threes, which increase the production of dopamine in the brain. Eating them regularly could be a viable solution for those suffering with anxiety or depression. 


Including nootropic ingredients — supplements that enhance or improve cognitive function, bodily function, and the like —  in your beverage program is a great way to build on the health and wellness trend. 

The top five health benefits of nootropics are:

  • Heart health

  • Weight loss

  • Increased energy

  • Improved brain function/brain health 

  • Improved digestive health

Here are some ways restaurants and bars are using nootropics on their menus, turning their drinks list into functional beverages:

  • Apple cider vinegar fruit syrup and pure — detox and gut health

  • Kombucha — gut health

  • Shrubs

  • Turmeric  — anti-inflammatory

  • Ginger — anti-inflammatory

  • Collagen — beauty space, in waters

Alternative Milks

Continuing on, we’re seeing plant-based milk alternatives everywhere. Sales in all plant-based categories were up 9% between summer 2017 and 2018. 

The alternative milk market is currently valued at $2.3 billion and projected to grow to $2.7 billion by 2022. Currently, almond milk has 64% of the market, closely followed by coconut, soy, and finally oat milk, though oat milk will likely rank higher on the list in a short time. 

Health-Conscious Alcoholic Options

Kombucha, though still a small part of the tea market ($720 million of a $14 billion segment), is incredibly popular as a low-alcohol alternative to beer.

Spiked seltzer currently has a larger percentage of the market than cider, which may be as a result of a ‘healthier’ perception since it's low in sugar, low in carbohydrates, and low in calories while also offering consumers a wider range of refreshing flavors. 

Incorporating vinegar, like balsamic vinegar, in cocktails adds acidity and complexity without calories.

Charcoal is used as a teeth whitener and helps the GI tract, but beware: It also contributes to the malabsorption of medicine. Cindy’s Rooftop in Chicago, IL, has a charcoal cocktail called "the babymaker." Wonder why….

Beverage Trend #2: Use Less Sugar

28% of new product launches in food and beverage this past year used natural sweeteners. It’s recommended that people don’t exceed 50g of sugar in a day.

Millennial parents are choosing low- and no-sugar products for their kids, like:

  • Coconut water

  • Tea

  • Water

  • Sparkling water

The two most popular sugar alternatives are monkfruit and stevia (each are 150-200x sweeter than sugar).

The new consumer rule of thumb with regard to sweeteners is “if I don’t see it in my pantry, take it out.” 

Here’s the thing: Artificial sweeteners are cheaper (also 250x sweeter than sugar) and you need to be prepared to increase your food costs and menu prices for natural substitutes; another option is to sell them at a premium price.

Beverage Trend #3: Create enticing non-alcoholic options

In this section, the term mocktail applies to all non-alcoholic beverage options in a restaurant, including kid-friendly options. 

THC Infused Drinks

The percentage of 16-24 year olds that abstain from alcohol has risen 32% in the past 10 years.

There are many reasons, but one of the biggest has been the legalization of recreational marijuana in 11 states and counting. It offers an option for people to go out, have fun, and leave the calories and hangover behind. 

Building on this boom, big brands like Heineken have begun leveraging THC in direct to consumer products: Lagunitas currently offers a 5mg THC 5mg CBD beer.

Non-alcoholic mocktail options

Interestingly enough, you can still charge guests for mocktails at the same price point as an alcoholic option.

Beverage Trend #4: Make it ‘Intsta-Worthy’ 

People are always on the hunt for great content for their Instagram. 

Did you know that the term latte art has over 6 million posts on Instagram? 

Using ingredients like:

  • Spirulina

  • Beet

  • Butterfly pea tea changes color when acidity is added to it 

  • Charcoal

  • Taro

Incorporating textures like whipped, sparkling, or nitro into your beverage menu also makes your drink list that much more suitable for “the gram.” 

Beverage Trend #5: Upcycle Your Fringe Ingredients

You can breathe new life into coffee with: 

  • Adaptogenic mushrooms, which elicit warm wintery flavors & all the health benefits of mushrooms

  • MCT oil

  • Botanicals — lavender, in particular, is having a moment

Use natural ingredients like annato to change the coloring of your drinks, or lean on novelties like tepache (a Mexican fermented pineapple liquer) to make spritzes by just adding soda water.  

Upcycling ingredients in your restaurant is a great way to lean on a sustainable business practice.

Here are some examples of upcycled ingredients: 

  • Duck fat can be used to make a duck fat sour - play on whsikey sour and a duck a la orange.

  • Cascara - the dry skin of a coffee fruit – can be used in lattes (Starbucks just rolled out a cascara latte) as a sparkling water infusion, or a cocktail infusion.  

  • Aquafaba - the water runoff from Chickpeas –  is appearing more on cocktail menus as a foamy topper.

Beverage Trend # 6: Soda Water

Water has officially outpaced soda as America’s drink of choice. Cheers! Bubly – a popular seltzer brand – saw a 336% increase in sales between year two and year three. 

Use that soda button on your soda machine more! Add your own flavors via in-house made syrups; make your approach to seltzer unique to you and your brand.

10:45 am — The real hero of the show is Chobani.

The Chobani team has been slingin' samples night-and-day, and we're hearing whispers from exhibitors in the North Hall that these snacks are providing the critical sustenance they need to get through the day. I've eaten five or six this morning and can confirm this is true. Thank you, Chobani, for supporting the workers of the 2019 National Restaurant Show. 

Takeaway: There's so much you can do with yogurt.

11:00 am — SuperSession: The Future of Restaurants

From voice commands to robotics and automation, restaurants are becoming more high-tech, allowing technologies to do some of the heavy lifting once managed by humans. Both consumer-facing and back-of-house innovations are helping restaurant be more immersed in technology to ease operations and improve efficiencies while modernizing to win over guests. 

This year’s Super Session brings together three experts in restaurant tech to walk us through technologies not yet widely used by restaurants but already in place for these forward-thinking companies.

Sara Rush Wirth from Restaurant Business is moderating the session, and she tells us the goal for today is not just to share what the tech landscape will look like but how to share the right tech for your business.

Allison Page, CPO and Co-Founder of reservation system SevenRooms, takes the stage and walks us through the evolution of how restaurants have collected and used data. Then she does something pretty tech-y and pretty awesome.

Allison puts on a pair of glasses. These glasses look normal, but she says they’re powered by SevenRooms’ partnership with Amazon Alexa technology that can see what she sees on the restaurant floor, hear what she says, and speak back to her through an earpiece.

Allison asks the crowd to imagine we’re on the restaurant floor. She asks the glasses, “Alexa, how are we doing tonight?” Alexa responds by showing data on the number of revenue and covers so far that night right within the glasses lens. Wow. 

Allison then walks us through an example of a dining disaster that happens to a couple of guests at their table. She asks the glasses about who the diners are. The glasses present data on the customer profiles and preferences for those guests within the glasses lens.

Allison says this type of technology is not only powerful in feeding restaurateurs information on the floor but also collecting valuable information in real-time. Why does this matter? When we can store this information, we can personalize the guest experience and our marketing tactics to get that guest coming back. 

Christopher Thomas-Moore, Vice President of Global eCommerce & Digital Marketing at Domino's, takes the stage next.

Christopher walks us through Domino’s new “Points for Pies” technology: An app with smart-camera technology that lets customers “scan” the instances of Domino’s pizza in their life and get points for eating those pizzas. This was a first-of-its kind project for Dominos, and Christopher says it was a huge success in both app downloads and customer sentiment. 

Christopher walks us through the evolution of technology at Domino’s that brought them to this point:

  • In 2008, they launched the Domino’s tracker, where customers could follow the progress of their pizza. This is where Domino’s really started their digital innovation practice.

  • 2010 was an important milestone for the Domino’s brand. When Domino’s came out with its ad campaign admitting “our pizza sucks,” Christopher says the company’s customers loved it, and it shaped up to be one of their most successful brand campaigns in history. “It drove us to being a true customer-centric brand.” 

  • In 2015, Domino’s launched vehicles specifically designed for the delivery of pizzas.

  • In 2016, Domino’s allowed its customers to order pizzas anywhere, anytime — their Google home, smartwatch, or even text through conversations with a bot.

For Domino’s, making advancements in technology actually comes back to its company culture and its brand values. “Consumer centric cultures win,” says Christopher.

Melissa Burghardt, Chief Operating Officer of Miso Robotics, is the last restaurant tech leader to take the stage. Melissa introduces us to Flippy, “the world’s first autonomous assistant.” Melissa gives us a sneak peek into how Flippy is actually able to do the work it does. Melissa says it’s breakthroughs like this, in machine learning and artificial intelligence, that allow computers to analyze information to make decisions in real-time and cook food perfectly every time. 

Here are a few fun facts about how robots in kitchens like Flippy work.

  • Flippy can actually see and recognize food at the fryer that’s dropped off by the server. It can then make a decision about the appropriate cooking method.

  • Flippy has real-time equipment vision to assess objects and movement. Flippy uses codes and markers on the product to be able to see where everything is to grab the tools it needs.

  • When you’re cooking with Flippy, you can watch on “Flippy TV” to track countdowns and progress.

  • Flippy can also pick up food items and precision-place them — imagine perfectly-assembled pepperoni on a pizza.

  • Flippy can be managed remotely, making technology like this ideal for large restaurant establishments that need to roll out technology like this across multiple locations, train staff, and monitor analytics.

11:30 am — The Cloud Shift: Increasing Guest Satisfaction with Omni-Channel Ordering

Cloud-based point of sale technology has gone from trend to norm to defacto in the restaurant point of sale space. Are we biased? Nah, not at all. 

But while you're here – why not get a demo?

What should you be on the lookout for when considering a cloud-based point of sale? 

  • Open architecture so you can seamlessly integrate with the many solutions you’ve invested in, like a reservation platform, third party delivery, or loyalty program facilitation – as well as API sharing and layers. 

  • A mobile first platform that allows for online ordering or ordering directly via a branded app.

  • A combination of hardware types (kiosks, mobile app point of sale) to line bust. What is your footprint or floor plan able to accommodate? Kiosks may not make sense but handhelds or online ordering can help. 

  • The storage and provision of a wealth of clean, rich data that can be leveraged to enhance the customer experience. 

  • Ability to pivot and accept new payment types via API.

  • A platform that keeps up with and improves the speed of service.

  • A forward thinking company: we’re on the horizon of voice ordering via at home speakers, wearables, and bluetooth technology in cars. Your cloud-based point of sale should not only keep pace as consumer needs shift, but should be 2 steps ahead anticipating what’s coming next and providing you with a solution so you’re never left scrambling. 

Above all, you want to invest in a cloud-based point of sale platform that lets you reach customers where they want to be touched. Not everyone likes kiosks, not everyone likes a mobile ordering app, so taking an AND approach to point of sale hardware not an OR approach will help you accommodate more guests and provide a customizable experience every time.

12:00 pm — Restaurant Tech Made Easy: Simplifying the Solution Overload

This next one is going to be fun. We’re excited to be part of a restaurant technology panel with our new partner, US Foods.

Moderated by award-winning chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson, today’s panelists — Adam Stinn, US Foods Director of Business Solutions, Kelly Esten, Sr. Director Product Marketing for Toast, and Nick Kiouftis, Manager of California Grill — are discussing the reasons why restaurant operators should embrace technology solutions for both front and back of house, how operators can best integrate these solutions into their operations, and what technology solutions are available to solve their greatest pain points.

Here are some of the highlights.

Marcus talks about how, as restauranteurs, we love people. "We have a voice, and we want to connect through cooking. I don’t think you can start anything today without tech as an ingredient. The tech is just as important." He asks Nick about technology he's added to California Grill that’s working. 

Nick says, "There are so many different types of systems you can use. Taking advantage of the marketplace your technology providers offer helps you save time." California Grill recently became one of the first restaurants to benefit from the new Toast X USFoods partnership. "Toast is a key ingredient for us now," Nick says. He talks about how adopting new technology is "a learning curve," and the key factor is training. "Toast has a lot of it, [training], with Toast U and the knowledge base and support." 

"Alright," Marcus says, "So, Kelly — what are the biggest issues Toast is solving?" 

"We ask restaurants every year, 'What are your biggest issues?' And the number one issue is labor. This week we’re launching our first restaurant payroll product, and we're helping restaurants with tools that make them more efficient, like Toast Go, so they can make use of the labor they do have." 

Kelly says some of the other challenges she's hearing from restaurateurs are around social media and guest data. "Understanding who their guests are, understanding who’s in their restaurant, what they’re ordering, what they like, and how to use that information to create guest experiences that stand out, because you can then connect the dots on someone’s experiences."

Nick confirms this is a challenge for California Grill. "If you’re not in front of your customers, they’re forgetting about you."

The other big one, says Kelly, is how to take advantage (or not) of the third-party delivery platforms, and "what role they should play in my restaurant."

Marcus then speaks to his philosophy on the role tech plays in his restaurants. "Once the customer is in the space, once you enter, I want the experience to slow down, almost like a Scorsese movie. Because right then and there, the experience is the most important. But everything up to that point is technology." 

Why embrace tech, Marcus asks? Where’s the resistance from restaurants? Kelly says, "There is a role for these platforms, but technology needs to make it seamless for restaurateurs." 

Marcus asks, "But would your mom be open to having robots making her food? (laughs) Where do we stop?"

Kelly responds by explaining the need for a balance of high-tech and high-touch. "There’s probably a role for robots in restaurants, especially in quick-service environments. But it’s also true that not being in front of a screen is a luxury these days, and restaurants provide those special experiences in our lives."

Adam adds the diner's perspective: "Going out to eat is about experiencing something you can’t experience at home, whether it be culture or geography or flavor. Technology helps restaurateurs react when they don’t always have the time to react — it simplifies it."

Marcus switches the conversation to another issue affecting not only restaurants but the world. "Food waste is something everyone is aware of. Americans throw away about 35% of all the food we buy. How can tech help there?"

Kelly says it’s about accuracy and data. "It's about making sure you get it right the first time, making sure nothing is missed. Can we track how much food is wasted? How much we're throwing out? Are we ordering accurately? That gives us data to make better decisions moving forward."

Marcus believes it's also about shifting mindsets. "If we come up with a more acceptable term for "food waste," people will be more accepting of using it. It’s about reframing. I look at how to utilize my daily specials to get a premium price but also a premium experience."

Adam adds to this strategic approach to minimizing food waste. "If you’re long on something, rather than throw it in the trash, let’s sell it at a reduced price. I see the amazing things food banks are doing and how they’re partnering with restaurants. There are always people looking to try something new, and you don’t even need to brand it as 'I’m long on my special' — it’s a new experience."

Visit www.usfoods.com/talkshoplive to view USFoods' recording of the panel discussion.

12:00 pm — A Fresh Taste of Foodservice Industry Trends and Innovative Food Safety Strategies to Power Your Performance

We know you’re here to learn about the latest and greatest ideas coming out of The 2018 National Restaurant Association Show, but it’s important to remember that managing trends with a risk based approach is key. 

What drives consumers to to select restaurants? Experience, quality of food, value – food safety is expected so it’s naturally not on the list. But, arguably, an emphasis on food safety is your strongest customer retention tactic; it keeps guests coming back again and again. 

Today’s restaurant guests want:

  • Clean labeling

  • Knowledge about where their food came from

  • Insights about how their food was processed

  • A location they can pinpoint to where their food is grown, as well as whether it was locally sourced or sourced via supply chain. 

  • Transparency about the food through its lifecycle

In the modern era of “customized eating”, we can seek out and find so many different options for our demanding palates – whether your lifestyle is organic, natural, vegan, low sodium, low carb, or high protein. 

Consumers are willing to try anything - now have 40k more SKU’s in grocery stores than we did 20 years ago – but we tend to be conservative and look for what’s familiar, ingredients we saw or see in our own kitchens.

When incorporating trends into your menu or drinks list, be aware of the following: 

  • Removing ingredients can make your food unsafe and vulnerable to micro-biome growth

  • To meet demands, we need to source from much farther away, opening you to food safety risk. What food safety systems exist in these faraway places? Can they adequately control the risks? Africa and South East Asia top the list of places where food-borne illness is spurred the most.  On the subject of food borne illnesses, an outbreak can cost an average of $75k.
  • Millennials want convenience, which introduces new channels, opening your restaurant to risks, like the potential for cross contamination and expiration as a result of a lack of temperature control.

Be proactive, not reactive! Make sure your team’s approach to cleaning and sanitation the same across the board; variations in systems are what result in error and an increased potential for food-borne illness. 

12:30 pm – The New Era of Automation and Foodservice Tech: A Why-and-When Guide to Crucial Operational Investments

In between baklava bites – let’s talk automation. 

Automation via progressive restaurant technology now offers restaurant owners and operators a way to streamline operational headaches in the back office, back of house, and front of house. 

In this panel, industry leaders from Technomic, Arby’s, McDonald’s, Chowbotics, and GeorgiaPacific share their opinions on the present and future of automation in restaurants. 


  • Our industry is seeing dollar growth – 3.8% in 2018 – but we’re seeing a decline in foot traffic. 

  • The two big questions on restaurant owners’ and operators’ minds are: How do we get them in the door? And, what do I do about my labor costs? 

  • On the topic of labor, don’t fall prey to the “I’ll wait wait for an economic downturn – restuaranats always thrive in economic downturns!” philosophy. Since we’re seeing more legislation mandating you pay $15/hr, you need to address labor overhead now before it puts you out of business. 

  • Today’s workforce likes the flexibility the gig economy can provide. How can you incorporate some of the principles of the gig economy into your employment model?

  • Self-ordering kiosks help restaurants struggling to pay front-of-house staff.


  • Automation isn’t a solution for a broken system – it’s meant to augment and enhance what you’ve already got going on. 

  • Anytime you invest in new restaurant technology, you need to make sure you train your team.Think back to when the dawn of the digital age began and keyboards made writing easier than ever.  Well, they were supposed to make your life easier but if you didn’t know how to type on one, you’re back to square one. 

  • Be realistic about your current restaurant operations. 

  • You need someone who will be a tech champion for new restaurant technology products you introduce; a super-user who can train your team and be a resource when questions arise. Train that person upfront and they can handle empowering your team.

  •  You still need a human for quality assurance for food in back of house 

  • If you’re considering investing in automation, first identify your most tedious tasks. AI, machine learning, and robots are great with repetitive patterns. 

Chowbotics: Creators of Sally The Robot

  • Interestingly enough, robots aren’t currently being used as an alternative labor source. In fact, investing in robots will increase your labor overhead: You need to schedule someone to do prep for the robot in order to cook, schedule another person to clean the robot, and schedule another to install updates. 

  • The two spaces where robots are on the rise are in hospitals and in the convenience store sector. In hospitals, robots deliver food to doctors and nurses on the clock, mainly between 8 pm and 6 am when human food service workers are off the clock. They also are being used to deliver food to patients, as they prevent the spread of germs and foodborne illness typically transmitted via human contact. 

  •  Robots don’t sleep - in convenience stores, they provide a way for operators to sell fresh food 24/7. In one convenience store concept that serves food, 1 robot does salads, 1 does entrees, 1 does desserts and the former convenience store cashier is on-hand to clean, QA, and help facilitate transactions. 


  • It’s important that you get the basics right - are you cleaning the filters on your HVC, for example? Automation won’t work for you if you’re not already approaching your systems the right way. 

  • “Automation offers a mechanical means to ease the burden of human pain”. Deeeep.

  • Ask yourself: What can i do to make my place a great place to eat? What can i do to make my place a great place to work? How can automation help me get there?

  • Start small with automations, don’t just go out and buy a robot. Here are some options: invest in a programmable thermostat, condiment dispensers, and/or a conveyor ovens. You need to decide on your goal, then you can decide on how to get there - if that includes automation, that’s great; if not, that’s okay too! If you don’t map it out what your end game is, you may just be shifting a bottleneck in your operations. 

  • Consumers still want the interaction with a human in their ordering experience. It helps them feel comfortable and rest assured that their order is right. 

1:00 pm — Your Brand has a Strategy: Are Your Team Members Part of it?

Big or small, every restaurant company has some sort of strategy for their success when it comes to people, food quality, and profitability. Today's modern workforce wants to work with meaning and purpose in a social environment, and employees today are advocates for change.

Here are some core takeaways on how to turn your restaurant employees into advocates of your brand.

  • Be present, and solicit ideas from your team. They have great ideas, and you can make those ideas happen.

  • Make your initiatives relevant and valuable. Employees need to know it’s important to be a brand ambassador. This communication is a business-wide effort — all of your departments need to work together on rolling out these initiatives.

  • Develop your team in a meaningful way. Today’s teams care about working for a company with a purpose. 

  • Encourage your employees to share experiences on social, to spread your brand name and be an advocate for it, but give them the training and guardrails to do it well. 

  • Roll out online onboarding training, because it gives you more time to spend in-person with a new team member, walking them through the restaurant, teaching them the culture, and feeding them your core menu items. 

  • Your best recruiting strategy is the current team you have in place. According to a survey run by the panelists, “60% of people said they would stay at a company longer if they had more friends working with them.”

2:00 pm — Healthy Mind, Body and Food, and How it Translates to Healthy Mood: Work/Life Balance in the Foodservice Industry

One of the biggest themes we’ve heard throughout the show this year is this: The most common reason restaurant managers leave a job is due to poor work/life balance.

This session is run by T.J. Delle Donne, the Assistant Dean and Johnson & Wales University College of Culinary Arts. T.J says living your best life is directly aligned with having a healthy mind, which includes addressing both mental and physical health. As chefs and restaurateurs, we create the most amazing meals for others, but often we settle for sustenance near the end of service that’s doing nothing but quieting the stomach rumbling. How can we make sure we’re taking care of ourselves as well as our guests?

Eating the right foods can poise your mood throughout the day and keep you productive and energized, but the wrong foods can create bad temperament and set you back. The right foods stabilize your emotions, and physical fitness is a core component of overall wellness that supports long term health.  

How can we, in the restaurant community, tackle our health concerns and maintain a healthy mind? By focusing on several things:

  • Healthy diet

  • Physical activity/health

  • A solid sleep routine

  • Managing alcohol

  • Having an outlet (routine, hobbies)

  • Talking it out

  • Quieting your mind (pre and post work)

  • Prioritizing

  • Setting goals (short and long-term)

What does a healthy diet look like? How can we create a diet that’s good for us while working under the demands of the restaurant industry? T.J. says we should turn to a Mediterranean diet, which is better for our bodies, and seek out ingredients that have nutritional benefits, such as:

  • Turmeric

  • Berries

  • Fish and fish oils

  • Lentils, chickpeas, legumes

  • Leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables

  • Walnuts and hazelnuts

  • Dark chocolate

  • Fermented or foods high in probiotics 

What can employers do to foster work-life balance for their restaurant employees?

  1. Share education with them. T.J. says, “If you look at the Googles and Facebooks of the world, they’re promoting exercise and good diets for their employees. A manager is a teacher, an educator, and a mentor. Listen and recognize your employees. Going to work might be the best time of their day —be that confidant for them.”

  2. Model good behavior. It’s on all of us, as leaders. 

  3. Give your employees two days off in a row! 

  4. Motivate your team, promote productivity, and offer feedback while they’re in your workplace. People will follow you, as a leader, if you treat them the right way.

“Work-life balance in this industry is an individual process,” says T.J. Turn inward, and look at your diet, your physical activity, your thought process, and how you’re eating throughout the day to sustain your mood.

Is there such a thing as work-life balance in this industry? T.J. says, “absolutely.”

4:00 pm — Protecting Your Most Valuable Data

There’s so much data flying around in the restaurant space today. From internal platforms and third-party partners embedded in our operations, we now have data on customers, labor, inventory, and more running through our restaurants’ systems. With this much information comes a lot of questions, especially around how that data is used and protected. 

“Hackers are no longer just individuals — this is an organized crime industry,” says Charlie Jones, Executive Director Digital and Guest Facing Technology of Dine Brands Global. “They’re looking for easy ways in, and once they’re in, they can sell that access to procurers of data.” 

Susan Carroll-Boser, Vice President of Technology at White Castle, says to start by identifying what data you have. “You need to protect things you wouldn’t have thought to protect. It goes far beyond your POS system: loyalty, online ordering, technology partners — those are all your responsibilities as a restaurant owner/operator.” 

It’s important to manage your restaurant’s data for a number of reasons.

  1. Security risk for restaurants is huge, but it’s not always top-of-mind for owners and operators. Data breaches are enormous financial strains on restaurants. Charlie says the average cost of a security breach for a small restaurant is $60,000.

  2. Regulations and laws are constantly changing, and you need to know your data well to be able to respond to these changes and make sure your business is compliant. Especially in the event of a breach or an audit, you need to be prepared.

  3. Owners and operators have responsibilities to their guests and employees to protect their data when they interact with a restaurant. You want people to trust you to treat them properly, and customers are now more aware of their data and how it’s used, so your business’ brand reputation is on the line.

  4. Data and security safety is the digital health equivalent of food safety — it’s critical best practice. 

Susan and Charlie have a few core tips for managing your data security as a restaurant.

  • Get your response plan together. You’re only going to know how prepared you were for a data breach during the breach, and it’s a different experience when you’re prepared. Even do some dry runs of that process.

  • Examine who has access to your systems. Are they locked down from an accessibility perspective?

  • Introduce education and training. Some hackers will actually call restaurants, pretending to be from your technology provider, and try to get information from your staff. If you don’t prepare staff for incidents like that, they might unintentionally leak critical data to criminals.

  • Implement tools around security, like password systems and encryption tools.

  • Have an insurance policy and a carrier you can speak with. Know who you’re going to contact if something goes wrong.

  • Don’t keep data around. Get it offline once you no longer need it to make sure it’s protected out of reach.

  • Continuously review and monitor your systems so you’re aware as soon an issue arises.

  • When you’re bringing a vendor into your operations, trust but verify — ask for certifications and specific data terminology in service agreements. 

Data security can be an intimidating challenge for any business, but Susan and Charlie are excited about the future of technology in this space.

3:00 pm – The Digital Journey: Unlocking Opportunities to Attract Consumers Amidst Digital Disruption 

Digital traffic has increased 2x in the past six years — and not just with regard to ordering food. Here are some of the additional digital avenues restaurants are using to delight more customers: 

  • Reservations

  • Previewing menus

  • Directions

  • Payment options

  • Check loyalty points

How does digital ordering and delivery play into our space? Well, yes, it’s obviously about the food, but it’s really about food now. 

Our concept of time has shifted from the agrarian age, where you operated based on where the sun was in the sky, to the industrial age, which gave us the concept of a 9 to 5 and weekends, to now the digital era, where we’re always on and the line between work and leisure is fluid. 

Today, one third of U.S. workers participate in the gig economy. We’re now a 24/7, always-on culture. Your boss wants it now, your customers want it now, and in restaurants specifically, guests have grown accustomed to having their needs met in an instant.

Digital ordering gives busy people in our on-demand culture control back in their day. 

You can have literally any type of food delivered to your door. PepsiCo recently rolled out a new Snackbot at The University of Pacific. Students can order snacks via an app, and the Snackbot comes to wherever they are on campus. 

With all the benefits — mainly convenience on-demand — that online ordering and digital ordering offer, there is one downside: It’s killing add-ons in restaurants. Guests aren’t adding them to their orders (why order a drink when I have a bunch already in my fridge at home, is a common quip) and restaurants are often forgetting to include them in orders that go out for delivery. 

Here are the top ways to improve your digital presence and leverage your digital tech investments to the fullest:

  • Today’s restaurant guests are looking for dining experiences that exude speed, convenience, and control. Your ordering channels should keep with this philosophy.

  • People won’t order beverages in delivery because they have it at home, so give them an option they don’t have at home. 

  • Include imagery in your online ordering flow (especially with combos – picture everything included). Guests are able to visualize what will arrive and can be swayed by a delicious image of a mouth-watering brownie or slice of pizza. Optimizing visuals on digital ordering can lead to a 2x growth in sales.

  • Many third-party delivery platforms have a digital marketing component built in for clients. This helps more people discover your restaurant who may not have otherwise.

  • The next frontier is voice ordering, though it's largely untapped at the moment. Experiment with ways to facilitate ordering via Amazon Alexa or Google Home.

That's a wrap for day three of the 2019 National Restaurant Association Show. We're off to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field to celebrate this amazing week with Toast customers and partners. See you tomorrow for the final day of Toast's live coverage.

Day 4

9:30 am — Welcome to day four, friends.

We made it. It's quiet on the show floor this morning (almost everyone is in the Starbucks line), but there's some awesome content on the agenda today to end this show with a bang. 

We're kicking off the fourth and final day of the National Restaurant Association Show with a video recap of the amazing conversations we had with attendees at the Toast booth yesterday. The topic of discussion? Your favorite menu item. We asked people about their favorite dishes from their restaurants, and why they're such stand-outs.  

10:00 am — Survival of the Fittest: Transforming Change into Opportunity

“By 2020,” speaker Jessica Bryant of NCR says, “one in every three restaurant orders will be placed digitally.” According to Jessica, Millennials have now overtaken baby boomers as the largest adult population in the U.S., and the fight for skilled labor is at an all-time high. In this session, we’re hearing from John Rosanova Director of Four Corners Tavern Group and Tara Townsley, Vice President of Information Technology at Bar Louie about how to transform changes in the industry into opportunity.

Jessica asks about using data to adapt to diner preferences. 

Tara: “We’ve found interesting things through the data. Our current audience is more female than male, and we were surprised by that. We’ve also found our dwell times are long — around 2-2.5 hours — which allows us to have a lot of conversations with our guests.” Tara is looking to data to enable more one-to-one conversations with her guests. “Data is at the heart of that.” 

John: “The card-based loyalty program felt antiquated. We use an app-based loyalty program that’s integrated with our POS. There’s data all over the place. It’s about how you get all this data in one place and make it actionable.” 

“By next year,” Jessica says, “one out of every three orders will be done digitally. How do you think about that with your brands?”

John recommends a more profitable approach to third-party delivery platforms: Convert customers from the third-party tool back to your own, more profitable, delivery system. “There are a lot of third-party deliver platforms that are cost prohibitive, but look at them as a marketing channel. You want to be strategic and educate your guests to go through your more profitable channels.” 

Tara says they’ve done a lot of research to figure out what works. “Our original thought was [delivery] would erode away the experience in Bar Louie. Most of our profits come from beverages and  liquor, not from food. But we’ve actually talked about how it’s a vehicle for restaurants to be able to maintain staff. It’s going to continue to evolve.”

Jessica asks, “As companies are looking at off-premise, what’s the most important thing to consider about their tech stacks?”

John says because of the competition and the many different delivery providers, you have to think about how to manage them all effectively. “Don’t take on too many platforms than you can manage. Keep an eye on aggregators who will bring all these channels into one source so operators can manage everything from one flow.”

Tara says the thing that’s most important to her when using these platforms is who owns the customer relationship. “The aggregator does, and as a restaurant, I don’t want anyone to get in between me and my guests. I want to make sure our guests have a positive experience, and in a lot of those cases you don’t own two thirds of the experience.” She recommends choosing your partners wisely and looking at how to optimize the entire experience. “That’s key.”

Jessica asks about employee engagement and management. “What are you doing to maintain employees and keep them happy in a labor market where supply and demand don’t match up?”

John says he’s paying more than the average. “We’re constantly encouraging staff outings. We try to keep staff as happy as possible, and we try to pay slightly above the market average.”

Tara says because their kitchens are open until 2am, what she hears from employees most is, “It’s difficult to do my job. I can go down the street and it’s easier.” She says her focus is to remove all the friction points within her employees’ daily experiences. “If I can make their experience better, they can make our guests experience better, and everybody wins.” She says most of it comes down to, “Are you enjoying your job on a daily basis?”

Jessica asks if the panelists are you doing anything from a tech perspective to support their employees.

Tara says she deployed a new labor system last year, with an online scheduling app, which makes things easy, but it’s also about how you have that conversation on a daily basis and get that feedback from your employees. “Capturing not just guest feedback but on a weekly basis, asking employees, ‘how did you enjoy your shift?’ Did they get the schedule they wanted? Did they get to have the right mix of family/work time?”

A question from the audience: A lot of our customers are not millennials, and they’re not hip to the technology. They don’t like it. How do we keep them engaged in a high tech environment?”

Tara says you have to meet the guests where they are. “There are a ton of ways you can do tech, but you also have to leave it open for guests who don’t want to engage in that way. You John says they thought about removing phones from their restaurant, but people still expect to be able to call a restaurant. “You still have to utilize old school hospitality methodology — that’s something technology wouldn’t solve for.” 

It’s about understanding your guests and your consumer demographics. You shouldn’t have technology without a purpose.

How is increasing delivery impacting kitchen design?

John says he’s constantly thinking about the new spots guests might stop in, loading zones, and delivery patterns, but they’re not convinced about third-party delivery yet. “We made a decision to offload our delivery team and take on a delivery company, and we quickly learned that because we gave up that delivery, we lost a lot of our business. You’re giving away control. There’s still not adequate training on the delivery side, so it’s a risk that we wouldn’t take at this time.”

Tara says as soon as you do a lot of off-premise, you have to rethink your operation and use of space. She’s seen some restaurants shift from two thirds front-of-house and seating to two thirds back of house and kitchen space. “A lot of people who get into it don’t understand the impact on their operation. It makes it more complicated.” 

As the minimum wage rises and the labor market tightens, restaurateurs are going to be looking at automation in back of house, which is where a lot of labor and food costs go. But you have to look at what your consumer likes. They don’t always want to see a drink dispensed from a machine. 

Jessica says social media is here to stay, so how are you handling online reviews?

John says his managers have a 24-hour deadline to respond to all reviews, regardless of the channel. “There’s consumer behavior out there focused on getting freebies, and now we’re considering holding our ground on social media on these feedback forums. The old mentality has been ‘the customer is right,’ but now we’re considering the opposite. I’m hesitant to encourage my team to stand up for their service, but frankly we’re sick of it.” 

One takeaway or piece of advice for restaurateurs adapting to change?

John says manage your data. “You have so many platforms out there giving you data, but if you’re not managing it, you’re losing out.”

Tara says, “The guest experience will never exceed that of the team member’s experience. Making sure both are positive.”

10:30 am — Your Piece of the Craft Cocktail Movement

During his time at Johnson & Wales, presenter Harrison Ginsberg learned the ‘drink well’ philosophy from the Rhode Island bar community. 

By making drinks with your heart, good spirits, good ingredients, great modifiers, really spreading the love through craft-cocktails, you can help guests drink well and enjoy a high-quality experience with every sip. 

Good hospitality + Good Drinks = Drinking Well 

Ginsberg knows what he’s talking about – he was a part of the Dead Rabbit team when they won Best Bar in The World at The 2016 London Cocktail Fair. 

The craft cocktail movement isn’t a trend/fad (Ginsberg reminds us trends and fads hit quick and disappear just as quickly). Instead, the craft cocktail movement has become the new standard, constantly evolving and improving, challenging bartenders to always:

  • Work with good spirits

  • Employ amazing modifiers

  • Lean on progressive restaurant and bar technology to create better systems

Anything ‘Craft’ takes a larger upfront investment, says Ginsberg. Purchasing the equipment and tools and training your staff in order to consistently create the same quality craft cocktails takes time, energy, and money, but the output is well perceived by guests and acts as a great customer retention tool. 

Yes, craft cocktails are expensive to produce BUT they are also meant to be sold at a higher price-point, says Ginsberg. Lean on your cocktail ratios to properly portion and you’ll find the cost of production behind one drink is actually pretty low. Be formulaic in your approach. 

How can you up level your bar’s beverage program by leaning on the principles of the craft cocktail movement?

  1. Use premium mixers – A premium mixer is something that’s made in small batch/small quantities; oftentimes bottled. These premium mixers carry a perception of class; they also provide a brighter, clearer taste. Opening a new, glass bottle for a guest to make their drink changes that guest’s perception about what they’re getting, your commitment to quality, as well as your passion and willingness to go the extra mile. He advocates for not opening bars that use a soda gun; Though he wouldn’t say that to a high vol sports bar, he does believe offering the option of using premium mixers as an upsell or premium add on could be a great revenue driver for those guests looking for something a little nicer.

  1. Use fresh juice –the change in pH balance and acidity that fresh juice contributes to a cocktail is instantly noticeable and can have a powerful impact on the quality of your drink. There’s no denying that fresh juice yields a better product: The aroma, mouth feel, and overall taste are just simply better than using bottled juices or juice from concentrate. The only caveat - squeezing out fresh juice is hard to scale or for high-vol concepts. Twisted Alchemy, for example, provides bars with cold-pressed juice for craft cocktails. As previously said, it may cost a little more to invest in a juice press for your bar but again, the fact that guests can see you pressing juice in house solidifies your passion and commitment to providing the highest quality experience every time.

  2. Invest in your staff – If you want your people to help guests drink well, they need to know how to drink well themselves. Have them visit bars and restaurants in the area with strong craft-cocktail programs. Bring in teachers - Ginsberg uses a gin expert as an example. BarSmarts by Pernod Ricard USA is a great educational investment for your team that’s pretty low cost – ~$30 online. If someone is going to offer knowledge and teach your staff something (ideally for free) take them up on it! New knowledge always elevates the guest experience. He also regularly uses Typsy to train his staff. Online, hospitality-skills learning is a phenomenal tool for restaurants and bars.

  3. Invest in better glassware & ice – Invest in branded glassware, says Ginsberg. Plating is a huge part of the dining experience and can elevate the overall perception of a dish; same goes for the bar. Molded ice, branded glasses, there are so many customizable options available for your bar, all it really takes is some creativity and a vendor. Bulleit whiskey, for example, partnered with a large hotel chain recently and rolled out a line of custom glassware and custom ice to be used whenever that hotel would serve a cocktail with bulleit whiskey or just the whiskey on its own.

“Like the kitchen, the bar is a way to showcase what your establishment is all about; you need to showcase it in the correct light.” says Ginsberg.

Providing your team with the tools needed to deliver a top-notch guest experience every time will empower them to succeed and spread the 'drink well' philosophy to your guests.  

11:00 am – Culinary Demo with Zachary Engel

Today, James Beard award-winning chef Zach Engel is whipping up some harissa — a traditional North African hot-pepper paste — and discussing his passion for cuisine from the Levant and surrounding areas. His father is a Rabbi and he spent a good deal of time traveling to Israel as a child; as he got older, he began to explore his Jewish heritage by revisiting the region and immersing himself in the culture and cuisine. 

He shares ways to leverage heat to draw out the flavor of spices and how leaning on dishes like harissa – which goes well with eggs, chicken, really the sky’s the limit – can help reduce your food costs and overall food waste. Harissa specifically can last you days or even weeks if stored properly. “At Galit, we make quarts of it at a time,” says Engel. Galit is named after Engel’s daughter, Margalit, who is in turn named after a wine region north of Tel Aviv, Israel. 

His advice to those who want to open up their own spot? "Keep an eye on what’s going on around you, not just what’s happening on a cutting board or in a stove" says Engel. There are so many different areas of a restaurant – from PR, to HR, to marketing, to front-of-house management – and there’s equally as much to learn about how to effectively run and manage each of those channels. 

11:00 am — Trends in Customer Loyalty Programs

Every day seems to bring a new type of customer loyalty program from one of the big chains. What are the new bells and whistles they're incorporating, and how effective are they in bolstering the top and bottom line?

Peter Romeo, Editor at Large of Restaurant Business, talks about trends he’s seeing in customer loyalty programs.

What’s the upshot? Restaurants from all stripes are investing money and time in cultivating loyalty clubs. “Maybe they had a punch-card program, but they’re trading up to a more sophisticated version. Right now we’re in the effort stage, where we’re trying to figure out what information to collect and what to give to customers in return.”

Peter says the biggest difference in customer loyalty today is how much information is captured. Today’s loyalty programs generate detailed information about a customer and their preferences, and now messages can be tailored and dispatched to each patron. One-to-one marketing is a possibility. And for the big restaurant chains, it’s working. Peter says:

  • Starbucks has 15.3 million members in its loyalty program.

  • 20% of the canadian population carries a Tim Horton’s loyalty card.

  • Bloomin’ Brands (Outback Steakhouse) has 8.5 million members. 

Peter says consumers are embracing this opportunity, and restaurants are already benefiting. “Starbucks says 40% of its transactions happen through its loyalty program, and Bloomin’ Brands has cut back traditional marketing spend by 25% because of their loyalty program.”

The challenge is that everyone is doing customer loyalty now, and there are only so many apps people are going to put on their phones. “You want to make sure yours is one of the ones.” 

Peter says a race is on to “differentiate the pay-off” — what consumers can do with their loyalty points.

So what’s worked in customer loyalty? 

  • Getting customers to sign up in store with immediate bonuses (sign up for $5 off now)

  • Giving something free every time they visit, however big or small

  • Allowing participants to gift points to each other, the way some airline frequency programs do. Peter says MOD pizza and B.GOOD both allow their members to gift free food to charities through loyalty points.

  • Exclusivity:

    • Dunkin’ lets members jump the drive through line and use a special dedicated pick-up window.

    • Red Lobster added a waitlist feature that only customers can use.

What hasn’t worked? 

  • Special loyalty credit cards customers can use on other purchases, like a Starbucks card you can use on gas.

What kind of ROI can restaurateurs expect on a loyalty program? “It depends on your concept,” says Peter. Big brands get return very quickly, and it really depends on what role it fits. Start small and figure out what you target market really wants from a loyalty program.

What about third-party delivery? Some of these services have their own frequent user programs, so who gets to record that visit? Peter recommends negotiating solutions to that question of who gets information on third-party orders. Right now, Peter says, “It’s the big franchises that have leverage in negotiations with third-parties, but we’re seeing it start to happen.” He also says operators are getting smarter about how they manage delivery menus, in terms of changing prices to optimize the commission.

Ultimately, when it comes to third-party providers, Peter recommends talking to your technology vendors, like your point of sale provider. “Do they have an existing relationship with a third-party that’s more beneficial? What would they recommend? Also talk to your distributor reps and see what they’re seeing as they go back door to back door.”

12:00 pm — Top Five HR Legal and Compliance Tips for Preventing Your Greatest Strength — Your Workforce — From Becoming Your Greatest Vulnerability

Maintaining compliance with local labor laws and regulations can be complicated, especially in today’s climate where there's grey area around what you can and can’t discipline an employee for. 

Paul DeChamp of Epstein, Becker & Green, P.C and Angelo Armador of The Restaurant Law Center shared their top five tips for keeping your restaurant compliant with local and federal labor laws and regulations. 

The following formation is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal, accounting, tax, career or other professional advice.

1. When hiring, know when and how to ask for info — including what not to ask.

  • Most employers know you can’t ask questions related to gender, race, or sexual orientation, but there are others you should leave off your job applications and candidate interview strategies. The three big areas are: no questions related to criminal background, pay history, or credit history. 

  • Criminal history: "Ban the box" laws in 10 states and 15 localities prohibit you from asking about arrest history, as there are proven racial disparities related to arrests. Excluding a job candidate based on their criminal past is unfair. You cannot ask job candidates about their criminal history during the interview process, but you can often legally ask after an offer has been extended. 

  • Credit history: 10 states and five localities block employers from asking for information about a candidate’s credit history, including questions related to their credit rating or bankruptcies. These laws also prevent you from asking even after extending a conditional job offer. 

  • Salary history: bans related to asking about pay history stem from pay inequities related to gender and racial discrimination. You cannot use past pay to determine current pay. You don’t know whether the previous employer discriminated to determine their pay, and you could inadvertently bake their discrimination into your pay system. Pay based on a candidate's worth, not what someone else thinks they’re worth. Yes, you can ask about pay expectations, i.e. “what salary range are you looking for?"

2. Be careful with non-competes, both when hiring employees and protecting your information.

  • Non-competes aren't common with hourly employees in restaurants, but with people in the back office or management roles they're more common.

  • If you’re considering using non-competes with your own employees, ask yourself: Are you protecting a legitimate business interest by having this person sign a non-compete? In the case of requiring a VP of marketing who knows all your strategies, a kitchen manager who helped create your recipes, or a manager who understands your menu pricing strategy, a non-compete could make sense. Above all, a non-compete is about protecting trade secrets, not about forcibly retaining employees. Don’t go too broadly, and work with an attorney.

  • When hiring a new candidate, you need to find out if this person has a non-compete from a previous role so as to not open your business to lawsuits.

  • Steer clear of 'no poach' agreements. Federal and state antitrust regulators see this as a red flag, especially with low-wage hourly employees. No-poach agreements are disproportionately unfair to low-wage workers who would have difficulty finding another job down the line, and the government will intervene.

3. Recognize change that has occurred because of the #metoo movement, and treat sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints in the workplace accordingly.

  • Workplace culture has changed dramatically in the wake of #metoo. The laws around sexual harassment and discrimination haven’t changed, but the way these cases play out both in the court of public opinion and in judicial spaces has changed. It’s important to rethink your “no big deal” approach; it is and can become a big deal for you in a short period of time. If and when the word gets out, it can kill your foot traffic and induce turnover or a difficulty recruiting staff. 

  • There has been significant push back on the traditional approach where employers leaned on arbitration and confidential settlement claims to quietly squash sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints in the workplace. 

  • Ask yourself and your restaurant management team: “What would a jury expect a good employer to do?” If a sexual harassment or sexual assault claim lands you in court, you may have to explain what your business did to respond in front of a jury and/or the press. Tailor your response plan accordingly.

  • You need to prevent harassment in the first place. Don’t just have your employees read a lengthy document. Employ interactive training with real-world examples your restaurant staff can use to identify cases of sexual harassment and/or sexual assault in the workplace. You can prevent sexual harassment and/or sexual assault in the workplace by taking a proactive approach with strong policies and training in your restaurant. The interplay between workplace law and substance abuse has become much more complicated in recent years.

4. The interplay between workplace law and substance abuse has become much more complicated in recent years.

  • The attitudes around illegal drugs have changed. Just look at marijuana: 33 states and D.C have legalized medical marijuana use; 11 states prohibit discrimination against medical users; 10 states permit recreational use. However, though it’s legal on the state level, it is illegal on the federal level. With regard to the opioid epidemic: ⅔ of opioid users are employed; ⅓ of employers report impaired job performance due to prescription pain killers; the U.S has seen 15,000 deaths a year as a result of opioid abuse.

  • As with many other parts of our personal lives, personal problems can play out in the workplace. However, employees are protected by legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act, FMLA, and HIPAA.

  • Common questions related to substance use discipline are: Can you discipline employees for marijuana use, specifically? Does federal law trump state law? Is it vice versa? Tread lightly. You can’t discipline someone for off-duty or off-premise use. 

  • If you do drug test, you need to have a conversation; don’t be rash. You need to factor in prescriptions, the legal status of the drug’s use in your area, and whether they could have a substance abuse disorder. You can get in trouble, as an employer, for not having a discussion with the employee. 

  • Laws refer mainly to impairment, not under the influence. If an individual is impaired, they might present a danger to themselves, their co-workers, and your guests.

5. Wage overtime and overtime regulations are changing, and you need to stay in-the-know.

  • The minimum salary threshhold is being increased.
  • The following slide refers to proposed legislation and accompanying overtime regulations. These rules may roll out in January, 2020, though likely May, 2020.

12:30 pm — A Culture of Innovation: Key Engagement Tools to Attract Top Talent, Drive Growth, and Keep Guests Coming Back

While technology and automation can improve labor efficiency and costs, finding and retaining top talent will remain a challenge for the foreseeable future. 

We’re hearing from Mary Hamill, VP of sales engineering at HotSchedules, and Lori Goldstrohm, VP of operations services at CAVA about how to increase employee engagement to create a better guest experience.

Lori says today, in the restaurant industry, there are fewer managers, they’re making less money, and they’re managing complex technology stacks, which means managing a restaurant has become a tough job. This is why retention and turnover are such critical topics right now.

One way to tackle this turnover is through employee engagement, which Mary defines as “the level of an employee’s psychological investment in an organization.” According to data from Hot Schedules:

  • 34% of employees say they’re engaged

  • 49.5% say they’re not engagement

  • 16.5 say they’re actively disengaged

Mary mentions three core things you can put in place to boost employee engagement.

  • Quarterly engagement surveys

  • Modern messaging using team communication tools (Mary says 60% of all peer-to-peer messaging between teams in Hot Schedules involves in-shift communication)

  • Managers leaning on data to inform decision making around employees, like shift planning

Mary then turns to Lori to talk about Cava’s core values, which they developed five years ago, and how Cava manages employee engagement. There are a few big things they focus on.

1. Define core competencies that align with the culture you want to build. The core competencies of a manager have evolved, and we’ve moved on from this world where managers are the enforcers of policies and rules. “Our managers are expected to do core competencies, and they’re hired, trained, and evaluated on those,” says Lori. “Developing themselves and their teams is the most important. Also fostering collaboration and adapting to change. We focus on these as a baseline, and the other things we can teach and train our managers.” 

2. Build and promote career paths for managers. Cava focuses on promoting from within but also not promoting people until they’re ready. “We were promoting the hardest worker, and we lost people along the way who were promoted but weren’t wanting to develop other people. They didn’t want to shift from task-oriented work. It was a tough time, but now the people who are in the manager roles are successful with us.” General managers at Cava also get bonuses based on the development and retention of the people in their teams. When selecting and onboarding managers, Cava uses assessments that place people where they are today vs. where they need to be to get to management. “During each program, there are five stopping points. At any point, the trainer can stop the training and focus on different areas they need to improve on before moving forward.”

3. Provide life skills training. About three years ago, Cava started using a learning management system, and one of their requirements was that it could be used from home, too. “Work is your life in this industry. But we want them to be able to do something with their families when they get home. One of the life skills we have is english as a second language, so team members can go home and share it with their family. We also provide training on resume building. We know people won’t be with us forever, and we want them to be better in their lives and careers as well.” Cava has a good balance between on-the-job training and digital training. “It’s a combination of video, storytelling, and not a lot of reading. And we continue to try new and different ways to do it.”

4. Provide tools to plan, execute, and engage. Lori says you need a balance of technology and critical thinking. “We use technology to help us understand food costs and profits along with critical thinking to make decisions based off that data. We love our technology. We like to understand the patterns of our business.’ 

5. And lastly, provide the flexibility needed to lead. Cava is working on making their general managers’ schedules more flexible, and their goal is to get to a 40-hour work week for their GMs. “As a manager, you can make your own schedule. You work when you’re needed and when you need to support your team.”

2:00 pm — And that's a wrap, everyone.

What an incredible four days it's been. Spending time with the restaurant community in one of the nation's best food cities has been an absolute delight. We've made new friends, consumed stacks on stacks of snacks, and talked about the issues that matter:

  • Labor shortages, employee retention challenges, and creating inclusive and safe work environments.
  • Kitchen robots, artificial intelligence, and how restaurant tech is transforming the way we work.
  • Third-party delivery platforms, off-premise dining, and how restaurants can adapt.
  • Food waste and sustainability and why it's important to not only the earth but also diners.
  • And, of course, all of the hottest food trends this year: plant-based everything, cannabis, and the latest health ingredients. 

We've had an absolute blast spending time with you, and we're so grateful to be able to bring this important coverage to our community. We hope you've enjoyed the 2019 Restaurant Association Show as much as we have.

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