2023 NRA Show Recap: Robotics and AI in the house

06/23/2023 03:10 PM By Thomas Greenman

2023 NRA Show Recap: Robotics and AI in the house

If you’ve never heard or attended the National Restaurant Association (NRA) show, it’s arguably the biggest restaurant focused trade show in the country. As industry experts, we attend several trade shows and other conferences a year for continuing education, keeping up to date with industry trends, see and experience new technology and more, but we had never attended NRA. This year I flew out to Chicago to see the show first hand and it was easily the biggest event I’ve ever been to. It was in three massive halls with a show floor of over 650,000 square foot (11 football fields of space), with more than 2,100 exhibitors and 900+ product categories. It was mind blowing!

For all those big numbers, it was a daunting task to see and do everything, and let me tell you that there was no way I could do that on my own. But for Skurla’s, we aren’t a large company, serving other large companies; we’re focused on our local Alaskan companies, most of which fall into the traditional SMB (small/medium business) space. What I was looking for is education, insights, and things that our customer could really benefit from, without having to have a Chicago sized budget. 

Automation and robotics was abundant, you could see how these technologies were adapting to restaurants, and I can see where you could think, “woa, I couldn’t ever afford that, let alone figure out how to use it.” Before you write it off, consider the prices are becoming affordable for smaller restaurants, and whereas the dishwasher has become a useful tools for restaurants and the home, this technology has fill in incredibly well. I saw automated fryer systems that didn’t require a computer degree to operate. They could be programmed in the real world, using your hands to guide the robots arms to pickup, move, drop, and do these things in a timed pattern. As a tech guy, even I have been intimidated by having to do lengthy programming, but with this? I feel like it was almost like a video game controller and it was essentially “recording” how I moved the device. 

If all that sounds too complex, watch the CNBC video linked below, they explore the topic of robots replacing fast food workers. For most of you reading, this is old news. But what is new is the cost. Consider that an average fast-food worker may makearound $20K per year, and the price of a robot is around that same price! What makes it even more compelling is that it doesn’t call in sick, doesn’t take time off, and delivers consistent results every day. The real innovation is cost, because its affordability takes this technology beyond the big corporate, fast-food chains and into the kitchens of the smaller restauranteur. CNBC: Will Robots Replace Fast Food Workers https://youtu.be/oJkQkr3Yy2

I also saw AI being used as a tool to improve order speed, accuracy, health standard and more. Check out how vendor Plainsight is using AI in restaurants: https://plainsight.ai/blog/vision-ai-restaurant-kitchens/. Tech like this shows that we’re just starting to scratch the surface of what AI is capable of. Seeing it in person and getting to see how it works, with actual food being prepared in an actual operation was eye opening to say the least. For restaurants who are skeptical or might be interested in it? Go see it for yourself at next year's show, May 20-23rd in Chicago. 

For more information on how to attend, go to https://www.nationalrestaurantshow.com/

Thomas Greenman