Our Faves from NAFEM 2023

Written by
Murali Krishnan
Partner, Retail

The NAFEM is a biennial event that showcases the latest innovations in food service equipment and supplies, bringing together manufacturers, dealers, and industry professionals. Here is a breakdown of a few of our favorite food service innovations at this year's show in Orlando.

Before the pandemic, the food service industry struggled with challenges such as high labor costs, outdated kitchen designs causing operational difficulties, and food waste. However, the pandemic further intensified these challenges as it brought changes in consumer behavior, like the need for quicker service, efficient usage of food spaces (to achieve more with less), and a shortage of labor. Despite these challenges, the industry had to adapt and innovate. At NAFEM, we observed a glimmer of hope through technological and automation advancements that would revolutionize kitchen operations and address these issues head-on. We have curated our highlights from the show, which features Middleby, Marra Forni, Antunes, and Structural Concepts, and highlighted some of their key features. While each brand's products excel in their respective functions, the real magic of successful operations lies in the sum of both the big and small parts.

At the Speed of Now

In a world where time is of the essence, the ability to get things faster has become a critical factor in customer satisfaction and loyalty. As a result, restaurants and other food establishments have been forced to streamline their operations and implement new tech to keep up with this demand for speed. Furthermore, businesses have responded by adopting contactless payment and delivery methods to reduce waiting times and provide customers with a safe experience.

Two of our favorite examples that demonstrated this was the Asynchronous Drive Thru Conveyors by Antunes and Contactless payment experience by Structural Concepts

Asynchronous Drive Thru Conveyors

Over the past few years, drive-thru's have accelerated adoption in the foodservice industry. This adoption isn't surprising as it reflects the industry's adaptation to changing customer preferences and the need for innovative solutions to stay competitive in a rapidly evolving market. Antune's got the message. Their Drive Thru conveyors use advanced technology to optimize the flow of food and reduce wait times for customers. In addition, the conveyor's asynchronous design allows for individual control of each lane, ensuring that each order is delivered at the right time, regardless of the customer's order size.

Contactless Payment Experience

At this year's show, Structural Concepts unveiled their contactless Micromarket technology that shares similarities with Amazon's or Zippin's systems. However, unlike other tech platforms that rely on a dense network of sensors and cameras to track customer movements and item selections, Structural Concepts' technology utilizes a minimized camera grid in the ceiling and weight-based shelving. This technology involves integrating a system of movable shelves with sensors that can detect changes in weight. As customers remove products from the shelf, the sensor updates the inventory levels and alerts the operator when stock needs to be replenished. This feature helps ensure that products are always fresh and available for customers to purchase, making for a more efficient and profitable micro market.

A Big Boost for Back of House

Increased efficiency is one of the most significant benefits of automation and technology in the kitchen. It reduces the need for skilled labor and allows workers to redeploy their time toward bettering their operations, menu innovation, and customer service. Automated equipment, such as high-speed griddles and robotic arms, can complete tasks much faster than human workers, which reduces the need for additional labor and saves time. This improved efficiency also allows restaurants and cafes to serve more customers in less time, leading to higher profits and better customer experiences.

Two examples demonstrating this were the Taylor Double-Sided Grill (Model L858) and Marra Forni's Rotating Pizza Oven. 

Taylor Double-Sided Grill

The Taylor grill features two cooking surfaces that can be used simultaneously, allowing for faster cooking times and increased productivity (for perspective, their chefs cooked eight medium burgers in 45 seconds). The grill also has a digital temperature control, ensuring precise cooking and consistent results. Further improving on all the big and little things, such as reducing waste, consistency in product, safety, and allowing staff with minimal culinary skill to execute at a high level.  

Marra Forni Rotating Deck Oven

Marra Forni is a renowned manufacturer of premium pizza ovens. During our visit, we had the privilege of meeting the company's founder, Francesco Marra, who gave us a personalized tour of one of their cutting-edge products. This oven features a unique rotating deck that ensures even cooking on all sides of the pizza. It eliminates the need for trained staff to manually rotate or adjust it based on the oven's temperature zones. Despite the seemingly straightforward solution, the oven's success for operators nationwide is attributed to its advanced design, high-quality materials, precise temperature control, and technology. 

Minimize Waste, Maximize Efficiency

After everything food service operations have endured, curbing food and beverage waste is vital as it can significantly impact the bottom line. Primarily, it can reduce costs by minimizing the amount of food and beverage that are thrown away, resulting in more efficient use of resources and cost savings. 

Once more, Middleby left a strong impression on us by offering two taps that cater to distinct clientele in vastly different settings. The first is the S-Tap™ Beer Dispensing System, while the second is Marco Taps for Coffee and Tea.

S-Tap™ Beer Dispensing System

Designed to provide a high-quality and consistent draft beer experience, this tap is an ideal solution for our clients serving large venues such as stadiums or recreational facilities. The system uses a proprietary dispensing system that minimizes beer waste and oxidation, resulting in fresher and better-tasting beer. During our conversation with Dan Welch, General Manager, he provided a detailed overview of the technology behind the S-Tap™ Beer Dispensing System. He also demonstrated the comprehensive reporting features that can provide valuable insights to enhance the efficiency of a food service operation. The system tracks critical data such as the amount of beer dispensed (down to the ounce), temperature control, and keg levels, generating reports that can be customized based on the user's preferences.

Marco Taps

While some may find it trivial at first, it's important to remember the impact that even small things can have. The Marco Taps system offers numerous benefits over conventional coffee and water taps used in food service. These benefits comprise precise temperature control, immediate hot water, user-friendly design, and minimal space requirements. If you've ever installed a tap system, you know the large boxes and space allocation required. Consequently, the Marco Taps system is a more sustainable and convenient option for providing hot drinks in both personal and commercial settings

In summary, it is encouraging to witness the food service industry taking steps to overcome its obstacles. Technological and automation advancements hold the potential to revolutionize kitchen operations and provide efficient solutions. Brands such as Middleby, Marra Forni, Antunes, and Structural Concepts have risen to the challenge with innovative products, and we look forward to incorporating these offerings into future projects.