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National Restaurant Association - 4 small startups that are creating big buzz

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4 small startups that are creating big buzz

At our recent Restaurant Show in Chicago, the National Restaurant Association showcased new startup companies that are taking the industry by storm. One of the newer additions to the Show, “Startup Alley,” is a way for us to help restaurants and foodservice businesses stay ahead of trends, deploy new technology and improve performance and sales. Here are four standout companies from this year’s class:

InKind
This crowdfunding program could help restaurateurs finance their businesses via the advance purchase of gift cards for future visits. Here’s how it works: a restaurant applies to InKind for financing, receives the money and pays it back through high-dollar gift cards that InKind sells to consumers. But restaurants must first meet certain requirements before the financing is approved. For example, InKind evaluates candidates by analyzing their Facebook activity. This shows whether they have community support or not. The businesses have to have more than 1,000 likes or a 500-person email list. They also have to be in operation for more than three months, up to date on rent payments and can’t ask for more than $50,000 in loans.

Bear Robotics
The technology company, headed by former Google software engineer John Ha, is focused on reshaping the restaurant business through robotics and artificial intelligence. Operators, pressured by increasing labor costs and high turnover rates, are looking for additional ways to provide customers with order accuracy, convenience and speed of service. The company’s latest protégé is Penny, an autonomous food runner who can memorize the layout of a dining room and serve guests accordingly. Ha, however, is quick to emphasize that Penny is an addition to staff, not a replacement. “We cannot eliminate the human touch in a restaurant,” he says.

Piik
By dragging and dropping point of sale, scheduling and inventory reports into the program, Piik allows restaurants and retailers to analyze marketing, sales and operational data in one place. It also recommends specific actions that improve sales and customer engagement, and reduce food and labor costs.

BigZpoon
This cloud-based mobile app helps restaurants reduce food waste by connecting them with value-oriented customers who will purchase their surplus or unsold food. The app, available for iOS and Android devices, allows operators to publish instant, customized and time-sensitive offers in real time. When restaurants have surplus food, they can post them for sale on the app. An instant offer is created using proprietary analytics that price the meal based on supply and demand. The app then notifies targeted customers about the deal. BigZpoon founders Sanjeev Ukhalkar and Cem Yildrim started the company as part of their commitment to reduce waste and increase restaurant revenues simultaneously. The app combines discounted meals, reduced service fees and the elimination of delivery charges. Currently available in San Francisco, BigZpoon is planning to expand nationally.

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