On my trip to see clients, vendors and friends in Chicago this week at the National Restaurant Association Show, I spent some time walking the floor to see what's new and exciting for restaurant operators. After reading an article earlier this year on robots flipping burgers, I was half expecting to see vendor after vendor with humanoid line worker replacements. Not yet I guess. Still work for us franchise attorneys to chime in on regarding vicarious liability issues and employment law.

NRA Show

However, new technology solutions were not absent and three small vendors really caught my eye.

#1 Wello

The SKYwello is a prototype sensor the size of a double thick cell phone that is mounted on the ceiling above food stations to monitor the surface temperature of holding foods. This solves a number of issues in the back of the house. The system's eyes are constantly moving from product to product and recording the measurements without the need of an operator once it is set up. If the temperature drops below the safety threshold, the manager is pinged. This also solves the cross-contamination risk when using a physical probe.

Wello has another product that does a retina scan of employees as they "clock in" to measure their core body temperature. This quick scan of the wellness of employees can help prevent the risks associated with sick workers. The machine is primarily used for healthcare workers, so it is a bit pricey for restaurants; however, it is a technology to watch. It can be retrofitted to also handle clocking in and clocking out, to avoid the "punch me out when you leave" syndrome. See www.welloinc.com for more info.

#2 Noodoe

This new technology from Taiwan is something as a consumer I want all full service restaurants to have. An elongated six-sided device about a third of the size of a standard salt shaker sits in a cradle at each table. Each server wears a device that looks like a Fitbit. When the guest turns the table device to a desired side, say the one requesting more water, a buzz hits the server's device and they know that table needs water. The notifications are simple and the technology is very intuitive. If the guest needs to order, get the check, has an issue, etc., the server is notified. Not only will this help the restaurant owner with faster table turns, it will also enhance the guest experience, which is something we all seek to do as business owners. See www.noodoe.com for more info.

#3 Shepard Filters

This is a a pretty old technology fitted out for a new purpose, which is what makes it so cool. Shepard Filters, out of Australia, claims a patent on using a specifically designed wool filter for grease hoods. They claim it traps 98% of the grease, greatly reducing the need for expensive, dirty, and sometimes inconsistent, hood cleanings. The pictures and videos on display in the booth were pretty impressive. I also learned that wool is naturally fire resistant and will only burn if exposed to a direct flame. This new technology not only saves a lot of money by greatly reducing the interior cleaning needed on your exhaust system, but it is also a much safer alternative. The only drawback is many people like the look of the open kitchen stainless steel hood. But for the majority of the back of the house grills and flat tops, this is something I am telling my clients they should absolutely look into. See www.shepherdfilters.com for more info.

Final Thoughts

I don't personally know any of these three companies, I just met them at the show and felt for my restaurant clients they were worth looking into further. If you were at the NRA show and saw something cool that you think I should have included on this list, please let me know. I love to keep a running list of best practices for my clients, especially smaller chains that don't go to these big nationals shows.

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