The Bar & Restaurant Expo, formerly known as the Nightclub & Bar Show, is the nation’s largest and most influential gathering of bar and restaurant owners and operators. The 2023 show was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on March 27 - 29. As a featured key sponsor of the show, SpotOn had a team of restaurant technology experts in attendance, including SpotOn Chief Product Officer Bryan Solar, to meet with bar and restaurant operators. Here, Bryan discusses his key takeaways from the 3-day event.

I just got back from Vegas, and what  a great experience. This was my second year attending the Bar & Restaurant Expo, and my first with SpotOn. It’s been a wild few years since the onset of the pandemic but this year feels like we’re finally back to a new normal.

My biggest takeaway? Operators are proactively searching for a better way to navigate the labor landscape, and they’re looking to technology to lead the way…but always with the guest experience in mind.

Automation: There was a good amount of robotic technology on display in Vegas meant to supplement labor, including bartenders via digital pourers and bussers via robots. While those sorts of things are an attraction on the expo hall, the operators I spoke with aren’t looking to replace their team with tech. Rather, they’re looking for technology to empower the staff they have and make them more efficient by automating certain processes. This is true not only for front- and back-of-house staff but also for managers. For example, automating redundant back-office tasks like end-of-shift tip distribution, allows managers to get back on the floor to work with their team and enhance their guests’ experience.

The Power of QR Ordering: Before the pandemic, QR codes were a rarity in restaurants—especially in counter-service concepts. Now, it’s clear that they have real staying power with a growing number of operators looking to QR ordering tech to help their staff handle more throughput and achieve faster table turns. We’ve even seen an increase in staff tips where QR is implemented. It’s definitely not the right solution for every restaurant, but it’s gaining popularity fast. And operators are finding unique ways to incorporate QR into their operation.

Benson Wang, co-Founder of Palm House Hospitality Group, shared an interesting approach to QR during a panel discussion on “Maximizing Profits.” At one of his restaurants, he uses QR on an as-needed basis. During normal traffic days, wait staff take orders at the table as usual, but on special occasions where volume is higher, they place QR codes on tables. This puts guests in charge of their ordering and payment experience and frees up servers to meet demand and still create a personalized guest experience—without having to add additional staff.

Building customer databases: While marketing isn’t the first thing people typically correlate with the labor shortage, operators I talked with noted that marketing is often the first thing to take a backseat when short on staff. Again, technology is playing a key role here.

Operators are finding new uses for tech to enhance their customer experiences and incentivize loyalty and frequency. The key is having tools to capture guest information at every touchpoint to build a customer database. For example, we see QR codes evolving with operators able to leverage group ordering to get more customer data. We’re also seeing this with easy loyalty program enrollment in the check-out process—whether at the counter or tableside.

All in all, the expo was a great opportunity to meet with operators and managers in a fun environment and have forthright conversations about what’s on their mind and how technology providers like SpotOn can help. As the world continues to push restaurant and bar operators, it’s always incredible to see the resilience and ingenuity of these amazing entrepreneurs.

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