It has been a jam-packed couple of days in Chicago. It’s also one of the most exciting weeks of the year, as I’m always excited to talk to restaurant people and hear about their challenges and hopes for the future. 

As the dust begins to settle, I’m grateful for another year of connecting with new folks and old friends and seeing the scope of what’s possible for restaurants to expand. Besides Chicago-style hot dogs, here’s what’s on my mind after the 2024 National Restaurant Show.

1. AI Everywhere 

Last year, I noted there was curiosity but not yet full adoption of AI. This year, it’s everywhere. But I’m skeptical of how much “AI” is actually being applied to solutions vs talked about, and am even more skeptical of operators’ comfort level using it. 

The best way to incorporate AI is to evaluate the solutions our operators already have, and use, and consider how they can be improved by this new technology. Earlier this year, we introduced AI and automation to our marketing software with Marketing Assist. Operators select their business goals and the AI and automation builds email and social campaigns that will help achieve those goals. The only thing the operators have to do is review and approve. 

2. Truly customizable tech

We saw a lot of partners and other tech providers looking to integrate. Just like guests want to build their own salad or burrito to their specific preferences, operators want choice when when it comes to technology. They want the tech community to see their unique brand, personalities, and needs. Point-of-sale companies should adapt to these needs (and wants) with deep integrations.

At the same time, operators should evaluate their current tech stack to understand what’s working, what’s not, and what they need to build a tech stack that works for their people. At the end of the day, the owner, employee, and guest experience dictates an integration’s effectiveness.

This could mean getting rid of the tech bloat and associated fees they’ve stacked up over the last few years. It could be a commitment to utilizing technology that systematizes and moves their business forward, helping them grow in an ever-challenging environment. 

SpotOn at the National Restaurant Show 2024
More than 75% of SpotOn's employees have restaurant experience.

3. The point-of-sale is changing (again) 

Finally, the days of the singular restaurant point-of-sale are long gone. The same goes for the legacy point-of-sale system. We have begun looking at how our own SpotOn Restaurant point-of-sale has evolved as our clients’ needs change. 

We look at SpotOn Restaurant as a central operating system for the restaurant experience. Not just from an owner/operator perspective but also from the employee and guest angle. Operator, employee, guest—these three parties are all engaging with the point-of-sale in various ways, shapes, and forms. Guests can now order their first round of margaritas or their entire meal while they wait for a table. Servers can swap shifts and check their pay in real-time from the SpotOn Teamwork app. Let’s not forget general managers, who can use the manager app to approve items and do closeouts in just 15 minutes because their tip distribution models are set up and automated. At the end of a slammed night, that makes a difference. The conversations we’ve had over the last few days only drove this point home further. 

This year is not my first SpotOn National Restaurant Association rodeo. Another year in the books has given me perspective and helped me reflect on and refine my vision of the future of restaurant tech. There will be times when optimism is difficult. But where there is expertise, technical knowledge, and partners, there’s promise. 

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