Hit the floor

While preparing for my first National Restaurant Association Show, coworkers warned me to pack my comfy shoes and get ready to take in the enormity of McCormick Place. Although I thought I was prepared for the industry’s biggest show, I still felt slightly overwhelmed when I arrived. From products and innovative new technology to chefs and industry professionals leading learning sessions, it was stunning to see everything that makes up the restaurant industry in one place. With so many exhibitors, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to see everything I wanted over my three days at the show.

Over 60,000 steps later, I had tasted some of the coolest new beverage flavors, interacted with technology solving back-of-house problems, and met with legacy companies that are staying relevant with inventive products. In celebration of the show’s 100th anniversary, the Association made a point to highlight iconic exhibitors, like Coca-Cola, who have been at the show for decades along with the newest exhibitors.

Delivery and point-of-sale solutions continue to rule the technology space. Robots and storewide-integrated technology are evolving to streamline delivery and inventory, which in turn is helping overall efficiency and the ongoing labor issues plaguing the industry.

Aside from trends at the show, here are the coolest products I found on the floor this year.

Image credits:Rachel Taylor

Revamped Coca-Cola Freestyle Design and New Countertop Version

When Coca-Cola launched the Freestyle a decade ago, the beverage dispensing machine attracted guests to try new flavor combinations and gave customers the chance to go crazy when it came to drink personalization. After 10 years in restaurants, Coca-Cola felt it was time to give the Freestyle a facelift.

The new Freestyle has changed the way both customers and operators act with the machine. Customers will see a more interactive experience where they can pull up drink combinations using an app on their phone with the Freestyle. Facial recognition capabilities have also been built into the machine, but that technology is still in development. Operators using the older version of the Freestyle know that maintenance on the machine can be touchy and keeping track of all of the ingredients in the machine is time consuming. Coca-Cola has eliminated most of those issues with the new version. Through an app, operators can keep track of which ingredients need to be filled in the machine. Training through the app also breaks down how everything on the machine works, so if a problem arises with a new employee they can become familiar with the machine without having to wait for a technician to explain the issue.

Operators in the past also expressed the problem of people coming into the restaurant and stealing drinks from the machines. To eliminate this problem, operators can use the app to remotely shut off the machine.

Along with the new changes to the Freestyle platform, Coca-Cola is also rolling out the Freestyle 7100. This new countertop model gives restaurants with limited space the chance to incorporate Freestyle technology into their operation. The new dispenser will begin rolling out nationally in Q2 2020.

Coca-Cola is also testing Barista Brothers cold-brew iced coffee as a new option for the platform.

Image credits:Coca-Cola

Avery Dennison Freshmarx RFID Solutions

Labor and efficiency are some of the biggest issues plaguing restaurants. Avery Dennison’s Freshmarx Solutions include a suite of technology that is aimed toward cutting time on everyday tasks, like doing inventory and tracking food waste. Using the new RFID technology, operators can get an accurate count of items in a delivery and compare it with the invoice in one swipe of a scanner. The initial scan brings the products into the system allowing managers and operators to do a simplified follow-up inventory count using the same technology. With the new tracking system, operators can see expiration dates and what they need to reorder without having to manually recount everything in a walk-in. As time spent on inventory decreases, operators have more time to focus on improvements throughout the rest of the restaurant.

Another piece of technology in the new lineup is the Freshmarx Donation and Freshmarx Waste Tracker. Using a weigh scale, operators can categorize food waste to see where food waste is coming from in the restaurant, whether it’s from low-moving menu items or ingredients that aren’t being fully utilized. Operators can predict how to minimize waste once they have tracked waste. This technology also allows operators to track and donate food each day, which again, cuts down food waste across the industry.

Image credits:Avery Dennison


Usually customization in the restaurant industry means choosing specific pizza toppings or crafting a coffee with just the right number of espresso shots and flavor pumps. Ripples is disrupting customization in the beverage industry. Instead of flavor, the Ripples Maker machine allows customers to add photos and logos to coffee, beer, and now, cocktails. The trend of latte art has been making waves for a few years, but this new technology can take detailed photos and print them on the beverage’s foam.

So why would an operator want to bring this technology into a bar or coffee shop? Besides getting a cute picture on my latte—they were able to print a picture of my cat on my latte—the simple answer is marketing. Guests share their creations on social media and use a custom hashtag to reach existing and new customers. Restaurants can also add watermarks that show up on every photo so the branding is shared when the photo is.

In collaboration with Chandon (part of Moët Hennessy Group), Ripples just launched a new ink made from carrots, which allows the technology to now print on cocktails. With this new ink, this is the first time Ripples has been able to print in red.

The marketing aspect of Ripples technology extends pass just photos being posted on social media. Operators, Tara Cook, have created drink deals and discounts for customers who share their #DrinkRipples photos and tag the establishment. After Jon Taffer installed this technology at Cook’s bar, Das Brauhaus, on an episode of Bar Rescue, she saw sales increase almost immediately.

Image credits:Rachel Taylor

PathSpot Hand Scanner

We’ve all seen the “Employees Must Wash Hands” sign in a restaurant bathroom. But how many employees consistently do that? With food safety issues plaguing the industry, if we can have a simple way of tracking when employees wash their hands, that eliminates a level of uncertainty. Using fluorescence light spectroscopy, the PathSpot Hand Scanner detects contamination from foodborne illness, like Salmonella, E.coli, Norovirus, Listeria, and Hepatitis A.

Before getting hands-on in the restaurant, an employee scans their hands to check if they need to rewash. The scan, which only takes two seconds, tracks employees through facial recognition and relays the info back to a manager or operator. The technology isn’t intended to be punitive, but a training tool that can reveal cracks in the system that could lead to contamination if not corrected.

Image credits:PathSpot

Aardvark Paper Straws

As restaurants tackle the issue of sustainability and move toward more eco-friendly options, more and more brands are coming to market with new products. I love the planet, but I’ve had a hard time switching from plastic to paper straws. Many times I’m less than halfway through a drink and the paper starts to disintegrate. It seems like Aardvark straws has found the perfect formula for a sustainable and durable straw.

Adorned with a sea turtle design, Aardvark straws are a sustainable alternative to the classic plastic straw. The brand, which was acquired by Hoffmaster in 2018, has been in high demand at one point the brand had a 12-month backlog. To help keep up with this demand, a new production facility recently opened in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in February 2019.

The straw’s sustainability doesn’t stop with the use of the straw. Aardvark’s creation are compostable and earth and marine friendly. Restaurants worried about the cost of switching to a more sustainable product won’t see much of a difference. An Aardvark straw costs about a penny more than a plastic straw and “when straws are only given by request, many consumers may not even ask for a straw, which ends up saving restaurants money in the end,” the company said in a statement.

Image credits:Aardvark Paper Straws

KitchenAid’s Enclosure Blender  

In honor of  KitchenAid’s new portfolio of commercial countertop appliances, the company debuted the new blender at the show. This product is a first for KitchenAid as it’s the first blender to have an enclosure. By designing the blender with this new option, the product has the ability to be used in the front-of-house without the issue of noise affecting guests.

With automatic timed settings and speeds, the frozen drink making process is more efficient. Employees have their hands free to complete a transaction or start on the next order when they use the new blender.

“Coffee and smoothie shops are on the rise, and commercial environments need front-of-house equipment they can operate in the presence of customers,” Sigrid Ott, U.S. Marketing, KitchenAid Commercial, said in a statement. “Our new commercial enclosure blender delivers quiet performance for your toughest recipes anywhere, minimizing disruption, for professional results

Image credits:Kitchenaid


Over the course of a shift, efficiency in the kitchen is affected by small issues that continually add up. Solutions, like the Wrapmaster, are simple tools that cut down on product waste, storage space, and time employees spend on everyday tasks. The Wrapmaster system allows employees to get a 100 percent yield when using foil, parchment paper, and plastic wrap. Instead of a bulky cardboard box, the streamlined plastic unit is hygenic, dishwasher safe, and allows for a perfect cut each time. The enclosed blade system is safer than a traditional box, which means employees have less of a chance of getting injured on the job.

The Wrapmaster has been used overseas for the past 20 years, but the product is brand new to the U.S. market.  

Image credits:Wrapmaster

Post-It Extreme

Organization in the kitchen can help with everything from employee efficiency to food safety. Unfortunately for normal paper labels the elements of the kitchen—water, fire, different temperatures—make it almost impossible for things to stay organized for long. Post-It came up with a solution to make its product more durable. The Post-It Extreme is water resistant, can stick to different surfaces (wood, brick) at all temperatures. From prep notes to cleaning instructions, the new Post-Its streamlines communication and organization in the kitchen.

Image credits:Post-It

Nespresso Momento

In recent years, Nespresso has become the high-end darling of pod-based brewing. Offering a more European take on coffee (think: an array of espresso beverages), the brand has slowly whittled away market share from major players Keurig and Tassimo on the consumer side. But that push has hardly distracted the company from beefing up its business-facing products.

At the NRA Show, Nespresso unveiled an entirely new professional machine, one taking the brand’s commitment to sustainability, aesthetic functionality, and exceptional beverages to the next level. Developed in response to feedback from restaurant customers, the Nespresso Momento features an intuitive touchscreen that syncs with the brand’s proprietary app to share information, such as the coffee’s origin, and place customized orders.

Continuing Nespresso’s eco-friendly legacy, every part of the Momento—as well as the pods—can be recycled or reused. Add to that: The device boasts a 20-year lifecycle.

Image credits:Nespresso

MorningStar Farms Chorizo Taco

Alternative proteins were once again a marquee attraction at the NRA Show as skyrocketing purveyors like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat intermingled with ambitious up-and-comers. This time around, MorningStar—arguably the OG of faux meats—proved that it’s still a formidable force in the plant-based movement. The brand recently teamed up with Executive Chef Paul Kahan to showcase its Chorizo Taco product.

A partner at One Off Hospitality, one of Chicago’s most renowned restaurant groups, Kahan leads menu innovation across nearly a dozen concepts including Publican Quality Bread and Pacific Standard Time, which both nabbed awards from the James Beard Foundation earlier this month. Both Kahan and fellow One Off chef Chris Miller were at hand to demo the product during the NRA Show.

As part of the collaboration, MorningStar Farms Chorizo Taco will be featured at both locations of Big Star through June 30. Although entirely plant-based, the dish mimics the texture and flavor of a smoked, ground-beef taco making it a shoo-in for Big Star, which hangs its hat on tequila, bourbon, and a honky-tonk atmosphere.

Image credits:MorningStar Farms

Cryovac FlexPrep System from Sealed Air

Condiment carriers may not be the most glamorous tool in a restaurant’s kitchen, but the increasing demand for high-quality, house-made sauces has made them an important consideration for the back of house. After all, an inconsistent carrier—looking at you, squeeze bottles—leads to an inconsistent product with dishes either drowning in sauce or nearly devoid of it.

Sealed Air is banishing that unpredictability with its Cryovac FlexPrep System. The handheld canister calls to mind a cookie press (or bank vacuum tube) with a staple gun handle and combines the portion control of the former with the easy deployment of the latter. Restaurant workers can adjust the amount of product released with each click while accompanying dispensing pouches range from 8–27 ounces. Cryovac FlexPrep System can hold ingredients as thick as guacamole and peanut butter to as thin as balsamic vinaigrette.

Image credits:Cryovac

Jimmy Dean Stuffed Hash Browns from Tyson Foodservice

Never wanting for bold, new launches, Tyson Foodservice  made a splash at the NRA Show with a number of new products, from Nashville Hot Chicken to a certified Angus Beef brand Steak-EZE BreakAway steak. But the product that took home gold (in the form of a FABI award) was a grab-and-go dish that blends two breakfast favorites, as well as two storied foodservice brands. The Jimmy Dean Stuffed Hash Browns from Tyson Foodservice come in three varieties: Egg, Cheese & Veggie; Ham & Cheese; and Sausage Gravy.

As more customers opt for off-premises eating, the stuffed hash browns offer operators an easy way to fill that need without tweaking the menu or commandeering precious back-of-house space. Staff can cook the product—frozen or thawed—by deep-fryer, convection oven, pizza oven, or high-speed oven.

Image credits:Jimmy Dean
QSR Slideshow, Restaurant Operations