Automation, marketing on key Gen Z themes at the Restaurant Show

CHICAGO- Members of the restaurant industry gathered in Chicago for the National Restaurant Association Show in late May to sample the latest culinary trends. The main themes of the show included automation, marketing to Gen Z and plant-based proteins.

Here is an overview:


The coronavirus pandemic has, of course, amplified the challenges of hiring and retaining restaurant workers. As a result, in Chicago, technology vendors came up with several ways to improve customer experience and increase productivity.

During a panel of events, speakers from Lenovo, Deloitte Digital, NVIDIA, RadiusAI, attn.ive and Vistry discussed how artificial intelligence (AI) and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) can be used to modernize the customer experience. “With AI, any automation capability you can do in physical space, you can automate,” such as a drive-thru where the robotic arm can grab a cup of coffee and deliver it to a customer, said Mahesh Chandramouli, director of Deloitte Digital.

He added: “AI is not a science experiment. That’s tangible value for you guys.

Robotics companies at the show touted the robots’ increased ease of use, productivity and reliability. Nala Robotics’ multi-kitchen robot chef uses AI and machine learning to learn how to cook in almost any kitchen.

Middleby’s The stand, meanwhile, featured L2F’s FryBot which uses automation to streamline and improve frying safety. Many companies including Segway robotics and Pringle Robotics have proposed autonomous service robots that can serve and serve food. At the PepsiCo booth Robotic Bear has partnered with PepsiCo to offer Servi Blue robots that can work 9 hours per shift and log 19 miles traveled.

SoundHound AI, Inc. launched its voice assistant SoundHound for Restaurants, an automated phone ordering system that uses conversational artificial intelligence technology to answer phone calls without any wait time and manage multiple calls at the same time.


Limited-service restaurants are courting Gen Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) because this cohort of consumers loves to eat out and sets dining trends for others.

According to The Coca-Cola Company’s 2021 DINE360 study: Gen Z dines out more than any other generation, with 22% of Gen Zers visiting restaurants 4-6 times per week.

This digitally native generation is more likely to place their takeout order through restaurant mobile apps than other generations and are more likely to use drive-thru and delivery. This generation appreciates indulgence and is more likely to choose drinks that are considered candy, such as iced coffee.

Gen Z customers can purchase made-to-order iced coffees as well as hot coffee drinks through Coca-Cola’s new Costa Smart Café, which brews drinks using fresh Costa Coffee beans, which are ground at inside the machine, and fresh milk, which is frothed by the machine. The self-contained machine is designed to create over 100 drinks before human assistance is needed.

At Botrista’s DrinkBot creates consistently designed cold drinks such as smoothies for Gen Z consumers through the use of algorithmic dispensing technology.

snack pass is a mobile order collection application designed to retain QSRs through its loyalty program and social features. Snackpass allows users to see what their friends are ordering, place group orders, and gift meal credits to friends.

One of Gen Z’s favorite beverages is bubble tea, the colorful, customizable beverages enjoyed with friends at bubble tea shops. The popularity of bubble tea has grown in the United States, especially among Millennials and Gen Z. At the show, bubble tea specialists Possmei International and Bossen exhibited their full range of teas, tapioca pearls and popping boba juice balls. Pecan Deluxe Candy Co.meanwhile, billed Popping Boba as “flavors that pop” with an edible clear shell.

In addition, Pocas International Corp. introduced the Taiwan Classic Ready-to-Drink Bubble Tea in a canned format.

Virginia Lee is a food, beverage and beauty trend researcher. She has advised companies on innovation and market entry opportunities in consumer packaged goods at Euromonitor International, Brightfield Group and Innova Market Insights. Connect with Virginia on Twitter and Instagram at @VirginiaALee.

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