A Startup Founders Take from the 2022 National Restaurant Association Show: This year was the first time the National Restaurant Association show happened since 2019. It was also my first time attending. I was fortunate to see the show through the lens of a tech startup founder as well as to hear and engage in conversations with operators directly throughout. I’ve found that when at these shows, the industry is essentially “talking to itself” and these conversations are thus invaluable. It’s probably rare that operators and tech founders have a chance to meet and discuss issues affecting the industry. From the POS war to the guest experience after COVID, and more, I wanted to share a few of my thoughts and observations about the show.
POS Wars (Really??)
In one hall alone, I observed about 15 different companies all hawking their POS systems. Nearly every one of them had one or more of the following phrases:
“The POS of the future”
I couldn’t help but wonder how/why the market is still so fragmented in this regard. Was this really the only tech that the industry was looking for? Before the show, I spoke to a master mixologist and bar owner who had recently gotten back from a trip to Japan. He said the following: “It’s like the US is in the Stone Age compared to Asia. I’d say they’re easily 10 years ahead of us or more.” Was this true?
Furthermore, I felt the focus on POS systems ignored other key pain points that operators face. Where was the server training software? Where was the cool menu tech? I found it odd that everyone was talking about improving the guest experience, yet there was little to no tech that was actually contributing to that.
If the restaurant industry is like most other industries, the legacy systems will slowly get transitioned out, while the larger tech-enabled companies like Square and Toast will pick off new accounts and grab market share. Newcomers in the POS landscape will have to be super creative to outpace these two giants.
How Does Tech Help Create an Exceptional Dining Experience?
On the first day, there was a keynote given by Alexis Ohanian, most notably known for being a co-founder of Reddit and married to Serena Williams. He made the point that customers of the future will likely be able to “tap a button and have a falafel instantly appear at their house”. He warned that if restaurants, specifically FSRs, want to keep their customers coming back, they will need to keep pace with the tech that’s fighting to keep people at home.
I think that too many operators believe that a tech solution requires a complete overhaul of their restaurant concept and traditions. Not true! In its purest form, tech is supposed to make our lives better. While change is always scary, it’s necessary to keep pace with the ever-changing consumer demands.
Are Tech Companies the Good Guys or the Bad Guys?
I hope our company will be one that can show operators how to enhance the dining experience for their guests while still keeping a people-first approach. I am pretty sure that when operators see the increase in revenues that is possible from leveraging the right tech, they will adopt it at a rapid pace.
Some Final Thoughts
While the industry is certainly still fragmented, I sense a shift is coming. Now that we are out of the pandemic, operators are faced with a key decision: do we continue the adoption of new technologies in our restaurants, or can we go back to what’s familiar?
The latter line of thinking, while tempting, is extremely dangerous. All COVID did was speed up the inevitable by about 10 years. Not only is tech here to stay, but it’s also here to work symbiotically with operators if they will allow it. It’s not all doom and gloom. I was very excited to see even the most traditional establishments exploring how tech like WineView can not only increase revenues but help their servers create incredible guest experiences. I think we have just as big of a job ahead of us to adapt ourselves to the industry’s problems as operators have to adapt to our solutions. I thoroughly look forward to both the tech industry and restaurant industry navigating the future of foodservice together. Who knows, we just might make the perfect pairing.
Gary Campbell is the co-founder and CEO of WineView. We use tech to help restaurants and their servers increase wine revenues. “I’m a big proponent of enhancing guest experiences and challenging the wine industry to think differently about wine programs in restaurants. I’m also a pickup basketball enthusiast and piano hobbyist.”