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National Restaurant Association - Innovation shines at third annual Tech Tour

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Innovation shines at third annual Tech Tour

Three days in Silicon Valley.

Three dozen restaurant industry CEOs.

Seven tech firms focused on helping restaurant companies grow business.

Those were the ingredients for the National Restaurant Association's third annual Tech Tour, held earlier this month. The one-of-a-kind event brought restaurant company executives together to learn from each other and some of the tech giants helping to shape the future of American businesses.

You name it, and the three-day tour covered it: The future of food and beverage innovations, kiosk ordering, graphic design, online team collaboration, food delivery, and more.

"I absolutely loved it," says Marla Topliff, president of Rosati's, a 50-year-old pizza chain based out of Chicago with 200 stores in 17 states. "I learned a lot, and saw a lot of technology we previously hadn't seen before."

The group of restaurant executives made stops at Apple, Amazon, Slack (real-time messaging for teams), IDEO (a global consumer-focused design firm), the Nestle Innovation Lab (the company’s new digital innovation outpost), and food-delivery services Caviar and UberEATS.

"As C-level execs, we don't have a lot of time to scope out this kind of information," Topliff said. "This was designed to give us the maximum amount of information in a one-on-one format."

Rick Silva, president & CEO of Checkers Drive-In Inc., said he found the tour "invaluable, not only because I’m walking away with business-critical technology ideas and information, but also because of the relationships I was able to cultivate with the other participants on the tour as well as key leaders at the tech companies." Silva's company operates nearly 800 Checkers and Rally's restaurants in 28 states.

Red Robin COO and EVP Carin Stutz said the tour helps restaurateurs stay on top of how to meet the needs of ever-changing guests. "The Tech Tour is an amazing one-stop shopping event to meet the innovators, see the impact they have made in other industries as well as ours, and look for applications that will benefit us," she said.

For information about joining next year's Tech Tour, contact Tom Wojno, vice president of membership at the National Restaurant Association, at twojno@restaurant.org.

Representatives from Slack talked about how restaurant companies are using the online collaboration tool for employees.

Tech Tour participants brainstormed during a session at IDEO.

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