The National Restaurant Association Show, held May 20-23 at Chicago’s McCormick Place, showcased where the industry is heading—automation and robotics.
Up and down the aisles, gatherings of onlookers watched as exhibitors displayed their futuristic technology, whether it was cooking sushi or serving food on a tray. With labor still tight and expenses running high, robotics appears to be a growing answer among operators.
That’s only a portion of the innovation seen at the Show this year. The following is a list of nine pieces of equipment that restaurateurs should keep an eye on for the rest of 2023 and into the future.
Productive Robotics’ Robotic Arm
Productive Robotics’ OB7 model is designed to provide “unmatched automation productivity, accuracy, and safety,” according to the company. The robotic arm has seven joints, meaning it has the flexibility and dexterity to reach around objects or obstacles in work areas. Productive Robotics said each of OB7’s joints can rotate 360 degrees in both directions, allowing it to work in confined spaces. When equipped with safety sensors, the robot can work at high speeds when people aren’t around and slower speeds when others are nearby. Also, OB7 learns without programming, meaning anyone can teach it to do hundreds of complex jobs simply and quickly.
BarTrack’s Automated Beverage Technology
BarTrack’s Smart Draft System promises to improve quality, consistency, and profitability while also automating inventory management. The system combines Micro Matic’s draft equipment with BarTrack’s sensor technologies and management tools, which delivers immediate cost savings, the company said. BarTrack said its sensors easily integrate into any draft system. Using the BarTrack app allows an operator to have visibility into beverage temperature, pressure, line cleanliness, foam, unrung pours, system, health, and real-time keg levels.
Wood Stone’s Pizza Oven
Wood Stone’s OneRev Labor Saver Rotating Pizza Oven comes with zero recovery time, meaning there is no impact from continuously loading pizzas. It’s also versatile; one can bake multiple-sized pizzas with various toppings at the same time. The oven contains a pizza tracker that understands the location and size of each pizza and replenishes heat when and where needed. Additionally, there’s center, underfloor, and finish flames to ensure consistent even baking each time. The pizza oven improves labor efficiency because loading and unloading are the only required skill sets, thus dedicated training time is no longer needed. It uses 50 percent less gas and is projected to save around $30,000 or more per year.
The ELECTRIC HOTBAG
This is the world’s first electrically heated food delivery bag, first introduced in 1993. All sizes (small, medium, large, and pasta/sandwich) share the same universal power connections and are made with high-quality material and insulation, making them durable and reliable for delivery. The offering includes a catering bag, which has built-in slots that can hold up to five full-sized hotel and catering pans.
KEENON Robotics’ Serving Robot
The KEENON Robotics Dinerbot’s three trays use radar sensors that can detect when an item has been placed and removed. The robot is reminded to take the correct dishes using lighting, voice prompts, and on-screen displays. Also, the machine comes with a shock absorption system to maintain stability over obstacles and an algorithm that ensures acceleration, braking, and turning are smooth and steady. Its 3D vision helps it avoid steps, feet, and tiny obstacles, and its visual sensors allow it to map and recognize location.
INFI Self-Order Kiosk
INFI’s floor standing self-order kiosk has a 24-inch HD display screen, ultra high speed and WiFi connection, and an embedded receipt printer. It can be set up in 30 minutes. There’s also a tabletop and wall-mounted version.
According to the company, kiosks could potentially lower costs by 30 percent (labor savings), improve sales by 15 percent (higher average check because of upselling), reduce order errors by 90 percent, and increase customers by 20 percent. INFI is integrated with several POS systems, including Square, Clover, Revel Systems, Toast, Lightspeed, and NCR.
AUTEC Sushi Robot
AUTEC’s Maki Maker produces and wraps rice sheets into sushi rolls. It can produce up to 1,300 rice sheets per hour under an auto-supply function, and it does so with newly developed rollers that imitate the quality of a sushi chef, according to the company. AUTEC said that traditionally, it takes three years to learn how to make sushi rice and another eight years to properly prepare and serve the dish. Meanwhile, its machines can be operated by a novice chef and produce consistent forms of sushi at a rapid pace. The company’s products only require one hour of training.
BFC Coffee Machines
Thanks to new technology and touch-screen color displays, operators can manage the water temperature for each of the three taps in real time. A water pre-heating circuit guarantees thermal stability. Additionally, with a new pressure control system, five pressure profiles can be programmed for each tap with the use of the touch screen. Operators are able to personalize pressure curves to get the best out of their coffee mix.
Aniai’s Hamburger-Making Robot
Aniai’s robotic kitchen for hamburgers is adaptable to any recipes, uses double-sided grills to speed up cooking (cut time in half) and smash patties, automates cooking and cleaning with minimal staff interruption, reduces food waste, lowers operating costs, and is equipped with AI technology to ensure better quality control. The machine cooks at 122 to 482 degrees and comes with an intuitive touch screen. It can produce 200 patties per hour.