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Tech Shows Up in a Big Way at NRA Show

Tech Shows Up in a Big Way at 2022 National Restaurant Association Show

by David Klemt

NCR Aloha NRA Show booth

The number of tech platforms and solutions at the 2022 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago was a sight to behold.

Once seemingly technology averse, our industry is awash in platform integrations, apps, and smart devices.

Drive-thru signs are reading license plates and collecting data. Digital menu signs are implementing facial recognition software. Automation is taking on more and more tasks.

Amazingly, the digital paint on the innovations we’re seeing isn’t even dry yet. While some developments may have taken years to come to market, it feels like they’re only one or two years “old.”

Here to Stay

People are still talking about a “return to normal” when it comes to the Covid-19 pandemic. To some, that means going back to their 2019 habits and lifestyles.

Well, that’s not going to happen in the restaurant, bar, or lodging spaces.

Delivery? Here to stay. Contactless payment? Not going anywhere. QR and digital menus? Commonplace at this point.

And contactless pickup? NRA Show 2022 attendees exploring the North Building encountered multiple pickup platforms.

To state the obvious, delivery is expensive. Combine inflation and rising gas prices with third-party delivery platform fuel surcharges and it’s only getting pricier.

Clearly, contactless pickup is becoming a more appealing solution for operators and their customers.

On the one hand, operators who invest in smart, contactless pickup lockers can avoid the exorbitant costs they incur from third-delivery companies. And on the other hand, customers know they can save money by picking up their orders themselves. Moreover, they know they can do so safely with contactless pickup.

Operators can now choose from an array of smart locker setups to leverage customer demand for safe, convenient takeout.

Your New Marketing Partner

Remember when people were blown away by QR code menus? Well, those are already old news.

As an aside, the fine-dining and luxury categories have been over QR codes for quite some time. However, they’re probably not going to be interested in the latest menu innovation. No, they’re much more eager to return to traditional, tactile, luxurious physical menus.

Other categories, though, will likely be interested in smart digital menus. As this tech gets smarter—perhaps terrifyingly so—your menu will be a supercharged sales associate.

There are digital menus coming to market that can recognize an operators guests…and then attempt to upsell them. The more a guest visits a venue with smart signs, the more the platform learns about them and their preferences. From there, the signs can attempt to sell them on a promotion like an LTO item.

Not long ago at all we learned that texting a consumer is a powerful way to market to them. Well, now we’re going to have the opportunity to sell them in a direct, interactive way straight from our menus.

Oh, and if this isn’t impressive enough, there are digital sign platforms capable of displaying surge prices. In the blink of an eye an operator will be able to leverage this type of pricing and revenue generation.

More Powerful POS

There were no shortage of powerful POS systems at the 2022 NRA Show. If anything, there are almost too many options out there for operators to consider.

However, we don’t think this is a bad problem to have. In fact, tech stack selection is one of KRG Hospitality’s key services.

Now, I’m not saying operators need to chase the newest, shiniest POS on the market. If what an operator has is working smoothly and they’re getting the most of their POS every day, there’s no reason to invest in a completely new platform.

But along with POS developments come powerful integrations. Case in point, Lunchbox. In simple terms, Lunchbox is an online ordering, marketing, loyalty, and guest subscription platform.

Lunchbox 2022 NRA Show booth display

Recently revamped, this fun brand (one of the coolest booths at the show, if not the coolest) boasts an average increase in same-store sales of 52 percent. Additionally, Lunchbox customers (per the company) experience an average of 42 percent month-over-month revenue growth.

As impressive is the fact that this platform integrates with several top POS systems, including Toast, Oracle’s Micros, NCR’s Aloha, and Revel.

What a time, eh?

Photos taken by and property of author

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SevenRooms Predicts 2022

SevenRooms Predicts 2022

by David Klemt

SevenRooms guest data image

As we near the end of a tumultuous 2021 we must look ahead to 2022 to set our industry up for best strategies, innovations, and recovery.

SevenRooms is doing just that, looking at what operators should consider to meet guest expectations next year.

In a blog post on the company’s website, SevenRooms reveals what they believe are the keys to success in 2022.

Let’s jump in.

More is More

The first quarter of 2022 will mark two years of the pandemic and its affects on the industry.

As SevenRooms says, some guests will not have been out of their homes for two years. The company predicts this contingent will be looking to unleash pent-up demand.

Of course, that represents an opportunity for operators. Another wave of pent-up demand can mean a boost in traffic and revenue.

However, guest expectations will be sky high. That cliché that less is more? Yeah, you can toss that right out.

More will be more for this contingent of guests looking to dine and drink out after feeling cooped up for month after endless month.

Sure, some guests are aware that operators are facing labor shortages, increased costs, and other pandemic-driven challenges. They know that workers are overwhelmed and finding themselves in hostile confrontations they certainly don’t deserve.

And sure, some guests are sympathetic to those struggles. However, they have their demands and expect restaurants, bars, and hotels to meet them.

What can operators do to meet those demands? In fact, what can they do to anticipate and overdeliver on guest expectations?

SevenRooms has a couple suggestions.

Collect guest data. At this point, this should be a given. How can an operator engage with and retain guests if they don’t really know anything about them?

Embrace more tech. Platforms like SevenRooms can handle a restaurant or bar’s reservations quickly and easily. This is a feature that, per SevenRooms, more than half of guests expect a restaurant or bar offer. Some platforms can also automate marketing; send guests post-visit surveys; and tackle review aggregation.

Convenience Reigns Supreme

Here’s a quick, impromptu survey:

Do you prefer a seamless restaurant, bar or hotel experience, or do you like frustrating dining, drinking and lodging experiences?

I’m going to go ahead and assume you prefer the former option. In other words, you like what your guests like: convenience.

Well, SevenRooms is predicting that the desire for convenience will only grow stronger among guests.

Yes, delivering on the increasingly important topic of convenience will rely on collecting data. But rather than view it as just one more task, SevenRoom suggests looking at it in a more positive light.

A number of the conveniences guests expect can be automated. They can even help ease the burden of the labor shortage somewhat.

For example, contactless ordering and contactless pay are close to becoming standards. Offering those features to guests means meeting expectations, thereby delivering an excellent guest experience. On-demand ordering and paying can also ease some front- and back-of-house pressure.

Collecting guest data allows management and front-of-house staff to add personal touches before a guest is even seated. Again, seamless, excellent guest service.

Another convenience? Online ordering. SevenRooms isn’t the first to predict that on-demand ordering is here to stay. In fact, a suite of conveniences will be important moving forward:

  • Online ordering during in-person visits and for delivery or pickup.
  • A user-friendly reservation system that goes deeper than just picking a date and time. Why not allow guests to select seats and even request upgrades?
  • A virtual waitlist. Not only is this convenient, SevenRooms says this feature can boost walk-in traffic and reduce abandonment.
  • Contactless, mobile paying options.

There you have it. Two seemingly basic predictions—higher expectations and a desire for even more convenience—with the potential to boost traffic, loyalty, and revenue.

Image: SevenRooms

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Self-ordering Kiosks Gaining Ground

Self-ordering Kiosks Gaining Ground

by David Klemt

Ordering kiosks and the convenience they offer have become more commonplace, even before the pandemic plunged its claws into the world.

In addition to the convenience factor, self-ordering kiosks provide guests with a contactless option that keeps them and front-of-house workers safer than ordering face to face.


This technology was on its way from trend to operational mainstay long before Covid-19 savaged the planet and tore through the hospitality industry.

The presence of ordering kiosks at the National Restaurant Association Show reportedly tripled from 2017 to 2018. Quick-service, fast-casual restaurants and limited-service were earlier adopters of self-ordering tech.

It took just a couple of years for McDonald’s, as an example, to outfit thousands of locations with such kiosks.

For several months, industry pros and experts have been saying there clearly defined types of guests with which operators will have to contend post-pandemic:

  • Those who will comfortably return to restaurants and bars, treating them as they did pre-pandemic.
  • Those who will return to in-person restaurant and bar visits cautiously.
  • Those who won’t return to in-person dining until they have been vaccinated and are confident others have been as well.

One can see how self-ordering kiosks appeal to cautious guests, along with those who will use them but take their order to-go.

Types of Kiosks

Anecdotal evidence suggests there are three types or styles of kiosks that are most prevalent: terminals, tablets and tabletop systems.

Ease of function and integration has made tablet-based systems popular.

Toast and TouchBistro are two of the most popular restaurant POS systems on the market, and both offer kiosk functionality. Toast is Android-based, TouchBistro is iOS-based.

Some operators choose to mount their tablet-based kiosks on countertops, some create ordering locations with tablets affixed to stands.

There are also kiosk terminals that are similar in size to ATMs, not based on tablets, and Windows-based.

ADA Compliance

Similar to how it’s important for operators to consider their guests and comfort levels with new (or newer) tech, consideration must be paid to ADA compliance when choosing kiosks.

No guest should feel alienated, excluded, forgotten about, or valued less than other guests. Counter- and table-top ordering devices should be easily accessible by all guests, as should tablet-based systems mounted to free-standing pedestals.

Operators who choose larger ordering terminals must appraise such systems on their ADA compliance. Last week, the Kiosk Manufacturers Association posted a 14-point ADA compliance checklist that end users can use to assess whatever kiosk is under consideration.

Kiosk Manufacturers Association ADA checklist

Image: Kiosk Manufacturers Association

One can read through the checklist in its entirety here, which includes such considerations as:

  • Depth, clearance, maneuvering and protruding objects.
  • Assistive considerations like Braille and tactile guidance.
  • Assistive technologies such as speech-output enabled display screens.
  • The Big Seven: Captions, contrast, audio, focus, target size, errors and labels

Self-ordering tech and kiosks will continue to evolve and become part of everyday operations for several foodservice business categories. While they may not become commonplace in the fine-dining space, they’re likely to dominate QSRs and fast-casual, and gain more traction in casual and family dining.

Not every restaurant, bar or hotel will benefit from this self-ordering kiosks. Operators who want to implement this tech must consider initial investment, POS integration, hardware, guest comfort, and ADA compliance.

Image: Christiann Koepke on Unsplash

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Make Your Restaurant Concept ABSURᗡ in 2021

Make Your Restaurant Concept ABSURᗡ in 2021

by David Klemt

Those seeking new restaurant opportunities in 2021 should give serious consideration to Absurd! Kitchen Co., KRG Hospitality’s unique turnkey QSR.

Development of the concept was motivated by the realization that operators need to continue to pivot to survive the pandemic and thrive in a post-pandemic world.

“At KRG Hospitality, we immediately pivoted in March 2020 into ‘rescue mode,’ understanding the immediate needs of so many independent operators,” says Doug Radkey, president of KRG Hospitality.

Moving forward into 2021, guests will be more concerned health, safety and their comfort than ever before. Absurd! was developed as a response to heightened guest expectations and to create a path forward for operators in the post-Covid-19 era. Not only is the concept forward-looking, it’s designed for turnkey operation.

Restaurant guests were growing accustomed to the convenience of frictionless ordering, pick-up and delivery. Lock downs, restrictions, and health and safety concerns have pushed delivery and pickup closer to the forefront of guest expectation. Absurd! leverages the latest in technology and utilizes a subscription element to reward loyalty while offering a convenient and safe QSR experience.

In the new era of restaurant operation we can expect guests to be less tolerant of waiting in lines. Multiple publications have published articles hypothesizing that the Covid-19 pandemic we lead to the end of waiting. Considering the importance of social distancing and how commonplace curbside pickup has become, it’s understandable that many guests have developed a preference for speedy, safe service.

Equally understandable is a guest wishing to keep interactions with other people to a minimum. The ability to peruse a menu via QR code or pay their bill using their own device has offered a level of comfort to guests during the pandemic. It’s logical to believe these guest habits are here to stay.

At Absurd! locations there are no traditional lines. By design, there’s no contact between guests and staff. Guests interact with a location via designated pick-up or drive-through areas. In the pick-up area, guests access food-safe storage units through their mobile devices to grab their orders. The drive-throughs only serve delivery drivers or those who have placed pre-orders. Convenient, safe, time-saving restaurant features for a post-pandemic world.

Absurd! cuisine is inspired by Southern flavors and dishes such as loaded chicken strips, fried waffle sticks, breakfast bowls, and sandwiches. There are options for the full range of dietary needs and preferences, such as dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan meat alternatives. Along with a competitive, high-quality menu, KRG Hospitality has developed a retail offerings that include branded dry spices and meal kits, leveraging another trend that has seen significant growth during the pandemic. The concept’s packaging is sustainable, and adding a food truck can expand an Absurd! operation’s reach.

“Approximately 85 percent of the food menu will be prepared on-site, including the seasoning mix and ‘dredge’ for the fried chicken, which is intended to also be gluten-free and dairy-free,” says Radkey. “The brand is able to accomplish this by maintaining a small but robust and strategic menu mix over the breakfast, lunch, and dinner day-parts. Other food items such as the chile cornbread, breakfast biscuits, and sandwich buns will be sourced through regional partnerships.”

While developing Absurd!, KRG has created a loyalty program to go along with it that’s relevant to today’s guest preferences and consumer habits. Loyalty programs have made the news lately, with attention being paid to how they’ve been changing for the past couple of years. Tech has emerged as a driver for such programs, combining guest data and personalized digital interactions to increase loyalty. However, creativity is a crucial element as well. Recognizing the value of a unique but easily understood loyalty program that offers an attractive value proposition, KRG’s approach for Absurd! is a beverage-based subscription service.

“With a low monthly cost of approximately $8.99 USD per month, the Absurd! beverage subscription program, which is optional, gives the brand an easy way to attract customers and convince them to change their traditional F&B ordering habits while building a strong base of loyalty (and data),” says Radkey. “Consumers today are accustomed to low-cost monthly subscriptions. Therefore, we think it is time for restaurants to tap into that opportunity. The ‘unlimited drinks’ within this program include coffee, iced tea, lemonade, and an assortment of flavored soda waters.”

Absurd! Kitchen Co. isn’t unique for the sake of being different. First and foremost, the concept was designed for experienced and new operators alike so they can thrive in the new era of hospitality. The dedication of KRG Hospitality to helping operators flourish with concepts that are scalable, sustainable, profitable, memorable and consistent is ingrained in Absurd’s DNA.

The concept is a recession- and pandemic-proof QSR that doesn’t rely heavy upon day-to-day involvement by the owners, making it ideal for operators of any level, from the neophyte to the experienced hospitality group.

Click here to learn more about Absurd! and visit to download this turnkey concept’s information packet.

Image: KRG Hospitality

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Can Vending Machines Help Restaurants and Farmers Fight Food Waste and Generate Revenue?

Can Vending Machines Help Restaurants and Farmers Fight Food Waste and Generate Revenue?

by David Klemt

French farmers have found an innovative way to fight food waste, generate much-needed revenue, and provide fresh produce to the public: vending machines.

Last week, Barron’s, a publication dedicated to financial and investment news coverage, published an article about farmers in France finding more success selling produce via vending machines than their own farm stores.

All manner of items can be loaded into vending machines—fruits, vegetables, eggs and dairy products, for example—and famers are able to choose how many lockers their setups will include. For instance, one farmer invested in a 60-locker vending machine for €30,000, while another placed a machine with 88 lockers close to her farm.

Selling via vending machine was lauded by Barron’s as respectful of health and safety regulations since farmers and consumers aren’t interacting with one another directly.

This development begs the question: Would selling produce directly to consumers through vending machines prove viable in the United States and Canada?

The havoc afflicting the restaurant business doesn’t affect only the owners, operators and employees—it’s a shockwave ripping through other industries, such as farming and agriculture. For months, news coverage has included reports of farmers sharing stories of showing up to restaurants to deliver food only to find them closed, leaving farmers with surpluses of food destined to go to waste.

One option to make this work could include restaurant operators and local farmers partnering to set up vending machines (locker type, not the standard snack versions). This would help reduce the initial buy-in and both operators and farmers would have access: restaurants would use them for contactless meal and meal kit pickup, and farmers could accept direct-to-consumer orders of fresh produce fulfilled through the lockers.

In fact, creative operators may be able to build meal kits that combine their menu items with ingredients sourced from local farmers.

The partnership concept may prove more viable for connectivity reasons as well. In France, one major supplier of vending machines, according to Barron’s, indicated the machines required a reliable 4G connection, in part because they recommend only accepting credit card and online payments to reduce vandalism. Placing vending machines on-site should provide more stable connections and steadier consumer traffic.

Politicians continue to drag their feet and posture in regards to Covid-19 relief. It has been clear for months that the public and businesses without lobbying power are being left to fend for themselves. A partnership between restaurants and farmers could prove mutually beneficial for the survival of the restaurant, farming and agriculture industries.

When contacting their representatives to demand they help we the people and the restaurant industry, it could be wise to remind them that relief for restaurants is also relief for farmers, saving millions of jobs and thousands of farms at risk of permanent loss, along with avoiding literal tons of needless food waste.

Image: Alex Motoc on Unsplash