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National Restaurant Association - What you missed at the Restaurant Innovation Summit

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What you missed at the Restaurant Innovation Summit

How can computer-generated recipes, new delivery options and mobile payment help restaurants? Check the highlights from our Restaurant Innovation Summit.

Tech trends for restaurants

Two trends restaurants should pay attention to now: cognitive computing (the simulation of human thought processes in a computerized model) and technology that can anticipate what customers need before they realize they need it. While discussing future trends, Amy Webb, founder, Webbmedia Group, received a virtual visit from the National Restaurant Association's Anna Tauzin via Beam, a telepresence robot that uses a webcam for live streaming.

Brewing innovation


Josh Halpern, vice president of national retail sales, on-premise and military, Anheuser-Busch, discussed obstacles that keep restaurant professionals up at night, such as increasing average check size and traffic. But innovation alone isn’t enough to resolve those, he said.  If you’re not thinking about the guest experience, you’ll end up losing regardless. Throughout the event, attendees enjoyed beer from an Anheuser-Busch self-service machine.

Computer-generated recipes

The NRA put technology to the test at the innovation summit. Florian Pinel, senior technical staff member for IBM Chef Watson-Waston Life, demonstrated how the cognitive computer could generate customized, imaginative recipes tailored to dietary needs and personal preferences. Phil Kafarakis, chief innovation and member advancement officer, suggested a few ingredients, and Chef Watson suggested two others to create a customized frittata recipe.

Screens, sensors, displays

Some restaurants are tailoring dining experiences to guest preferences with the help of technology. For example, guests at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar use the restaurant’s app to check in, see wait times, order drinks while they wait, and pay before or after dining, said Chris Demery, group vice president, customer experience technology, Bloomin' Brands. Students with special diets can download the University of Illinois dining app to quickly access information they need, said Dawn Aubrey, associate director, university housing for dining services.

Tableside tech


A panel on tableside tech discussed communal devices to enhance the dining experience, such as games on a tabletop device. They also discussed the importance of creating a seamless guest experience through technology, which involves employee training. The panel, moderated by Lisa Landsman, head of industry, restaurants, Google, included Chris DeFrain, chief financial officer, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews, and Raymond Howard, co-founder and chief sales officer, Ziosk.

Delivery on-demand

A drone dropped off a granola bar to moderator Brita Roseheim at the start of the "New Delivery On Demand" session. Panelists discussed how star ratings, customer feedback and other insight to help restaurants improve their operations. Panelists included (from left) Puneet Tandon, vice president, operations, Zomato; Prahar Shah, head of business development, DoorDash; Mike Davis, vice president of sales and business development, Delivery.com; Stan Chia, senior vice president, operations, GrubHub; and Holger Luedorf, senior vice president, business development, Postmates.

Truth in data


It’s important to really know your core customers, says Helen Baptist, vice president of operations, Fishbowl. What do they like? How old are they? Collecting accurate insight can help you craft creative marketing that resonates with your audiences and keep guests coming back for more.


Restaurants can be prime targets for hackers because of their volume of credit-card transactions. But hackers aren’t after just card data. White Castle is taking steps to protect employee identities, trade secrets and the restaurant brand, says Susan Carroll, director of information services. Carroll leads an industry-wide effort to tailor a Cybersecurity Framework for the Restaurant Industry, based on the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s cybersecurity initiative. Contact the NRA’s Laura Chadwick to learn more.

The new(est) way to pay

Some restaurants accept mobile payment for early adopters, even though they represent a small percentage of customers. They include, Sotto, which uses Reserve, a reservations app that holds a user’s credit card information, says operations manager Kate Linington. Hi Neighbor Hospitality Group’s Stones Throw and Trestle restaurants use Cover, which acts like a mobile wallet, and OpenTable Payments, partner Ryan Cole says.

The future of food


Futurist Edie Weiner discussed the far future of food and recent changes to the supply chain. For example, NASA aims to provide astronauts food with a 30-year shelf life, Weiner says.  Another example is using 3D printers -- though costly and expensive -- to tackle demand for meat. And farmers can print irrigation pumps, wind generator parts and replacement tools.


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