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Blog | Industry News and Trends

Automation and Labor Innovations Headline the 2018 National Restaurant Association Show

The 2018 National Restaurant Association Show opened our eyes to some of the most important issues facing the industry today. Find out what we learned right now!

The National Restaurant Association hosted over 100,000 operators, suppliers, and culinary professionals for a great week of learning, networking and (of course) eating in Chicago. HotSchedules has participated in the show for more than 10 years, and we were thrilled to be back. This year, HotSchedules hosted two Innovation sessions where we shared our insights on the latest in restaurant labor trends and advancements in forecasting.  

Not able to attend the show this year? No worries! We’ve got you covered with a quick overview of the trends and innovative technology that continue to push our industry forward.



1. Off-premise dining continues to dominate mindshare with operators and vendors alike

Let’s face it, off-premise dining is no longer a trend — it has fundamentally shifted a restaurant’s approach to operations. Operators across the well-attended sessions admitted they face a number of challenges regarding real estate, third party delivery partners, and staffing for non-traditional transactions.

In separate sessions, Don Fox, CEO of Firehouse Subs, and Mike Spec, COO of Halal Guys, both suggested that operators need to be careful when making delivery decisions. Fox and Spec said that although delivery has a high impact on a business’s margins, operators should evaluate delivery marketplaces on their potential to draw in new business. Fox found that delivery brings incremental business and you can’t put a price on new customers. If you are ready to add delivery or other off-premise dining options, be sure that you are forecasting by revenue center so you can make front-and-back of house staffing decisions to accommodate the unpredictability in your business.  

2. The future of automation is here and robots are on the menu

The theme for this year’s Super Session was “The Future of Restaurants,” featuring global futurist and innovation expert Daniel Burrus alongside John Miller, CEO of CaliBurger and Cali Group, and John Ha, CEO of Bear Robotics. During the session, the audience watched as Penny the robot server delivered water to the speakers on stage, proving the robotic power possible in a restaurant. There was agreement across the board that robots and AI technology will improve restaurant service and performance but will never fully replace the human element. Burrus predicted automation will unlock the power of human potential and foster an even better guest experience.

HotSchedules VP of Sales Solutions, Mary Hamill, echoed this sentiment during her panel Precision Forecasting: Partnering Manager and Machine to More Accurately Predict Performance. when discussing the impact of machine learning and the importance of the manager’s local expertise in delivering a precision forecast.

“You can’t build a great schedule or deliver quality products without a great forecast,” Hamill said.



3. At the end of the day, labor issues remain a primary concern

With an unprecedented unemployment rate and concerns over wages and compliance, the restaurant workforce is and will always be a hot NRA topic. Many great sessions were delivered on retention, training, culture and cost controls.  In fact, we were proud to attend sessions hosted by HotSchedules customers including Kristin Burk with Sprinkles and Patrick Yearout with Ivar’s.  

HotSchedules Co-Founder and Chief Customer Officer David Cantu offered attendees a short list of priorities for surviving today’s complex labor market. Most importantly, he encouraged them to invest in their general managers – build competencies in forecasting, productivity and compliance management.  The costs of turning over good managers are significant, so provide them with the tools that they need to succeed, Cantu said.

See you next year!


Couldn’t make it to NRA Show 2018?
Join us for our Spark Conference from Sept. 24-26, 2018!

Join fellow restaurant leaders and industry innovators for two rapid-fire days to learn what the best in the business are doing to disrupt the status quo and thrive in the face of an ever-changing industry.

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