5 tech products under the radar at the National Restaurant Association Show

A crowd heads to the Show floor on Monday. / Photography by Oscar & Associates

Technology vendors take up much of the real estate at the National Restaurant Association Show. But spend enough time browsing the stalls and you might catch a case of deja vu. (How are they this many POS companies?)

That said, technology is technology and new ideas abound amidst the monotony. As we made our way around the big event in Chicago this week, tThese five products stood out as unique and potentially impactful, if not yet widely adopted. Together, tthey give a glimpse of what could happen at the turn for restaurants.

Dynamic menus

What if a restaurant menu changed depending on who was looking at it? That’s the premise of new technology from digital signage company Raydiant and recently acquired company SightCorp, which uses cameras and artificial intelligence to analyze people’s faces.

Here’s one way the partnership could work: A customer walks up to a self-ordering kiosk equipped with a camera. The camera, using SightCorp’s software, identifies the customer as a man, and the menu changes to show the items men tend to order – in this case, burgers and chicken sandwiches.

This is a rudimentary example, but the tool could also be used to detect age, attention, and even mood, and suggest corresponding menu selections. The technology is currently being used in the Wahlburgers chain. (Mark Wahlberg is a Raydiant Advisor.)

Indoor-outdoor pickup

Apex, a maker of high-tech pick-up cabinets, has a new prototype that can be integrated into the exterior of a restaurant so customers can grab their food without setting foot inside. Employees load the lockers from inside the restaurant and the customer can access their meal by entering a unique code. A rep for Apex said restaurants are now looking to its cabinets as a way to ease congestion caused by delivery drivers grabbing orders.

Apex Pickup Cabinet

Apex’s new Order Pickup Cabinet. / Photography by Joe Guszkowski

Dynamic pricing

Anyone who’s ever taken an Uber knows the concept of dynamic pricing: when lots of people order rides, the cost of yours goes up. Sauce, a 2-year-old startup founded by MIT graduates, wants to bring this strategy to the restaurant industry. It uses third-party delivery data to determine customer demand and automatically adjusts a restaurant’s online menu prices accordingly, with the goal of increasing orders and sales. It’s specifically focused on delivery, and many of its current customers are virtual brands, CEO and co-founder Colin Webb said.

AI-assisted payment

Grubbrr, a maker of self-checkout kiosks for restaurants, was showcasing a new self-checkout system for retailers. Described as the poor man’s Amazon Go, the system uses a camera and AI to identify every item a customer buys. A Grubbrr rep said they time products accurately about 95% of the time. If they can’t identify something, the customer can search for it manually.

grubbrr self-checkout

Grubbr’s self-service checkout system. / Photography by Joe Guszkowski

Table flipping technology

The idea behind Let Us Nudge is right in the name: restaurants can use the app to “incentivize” customers to do things. If a restaurant is busy, the operator can use this to offer customers a discount if they leave before a pre-determined time, which helps turn the tables faster. And if it’s a slow night, a restaurant can nudge customers with a promotion that might entice them in. Let Us Nudge currently works with over a dozen family restaurants and is in trial with Nathan’s Famous.

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Rozella J. Cook