Diane Mandeville, vice president of marketing, Cannery Row Company, Monterey Calif., joined nearly 25 restaurant industry colleagues for the National Restaurant Association’s invitational Tech Tour. This year’s tour took guests to the world-renowned Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. We asked her to share highlights and insights about the experience.

Groundbreaking tech at CES: “I’ve been fortunate to attend two Tech Tours before this newest one in January, which was held for the first time in conjunction with the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

While I’ve attended CES before, it’s been about 30 years! Not only has the technology changed (“exploded” would be more apt word) but the size of the show is exponentially larger than the last time I went.

Feeling privileged on private tour: Being able to see it through a private tour curated just for us — restaurant industry professionals — was invaluable because you can easily get lost and overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of exhibitors and types of consumer products and technologies on display.

To go through the show on a personally guided tour was the equivalent of seeing the highlights of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At these kinds of venues, everything is wonderful and worthwhile and captivating, but eventually, “content fatigue” can set in.

Instead, the Association tour managed to focus on the technologies that would impact our businesses and expose us to the most innovative, inspiring and practical exhibits with the potential to apply to what we do.

 If I had not been invited to attend Tech Tour, I would not have attended CES. The opportunity to experience the show made this one of the most valuable two days I’ll spend this year. There were so many highlights:

Most surprising tech finds: The Delta display for airports that uses a digital boarding pass to present personalized, customized information to an individual traveler was very forward-thinking and “futuristic.”

I was also surprised to see the number of autonomous vehicles — cars, pods, helicopters; they were everywhere.

The robotic dishwasher was great; it operates in a smaller footprint than I would have expected. Robotics can address some of the labor issues we’re facing, and in meaningful ways that can be adopted now, not five or 10 years from now.

Another interesting find was a program from Bosch that can overlay on an existing CCTV system to deliver insights to customers’ behaviors. Managers and employees can act on these behaviors to enhance the guest experience, improve service, reconfigure the flow, and more.

Connecting with fellow restaurant pros: The other tour bonus was spending time with colleagues from other restaurant companies. I found some of my peers’ experiences with restaurant delivery timely. And it’s clear from conversations we shared that most operators are having a tough time recruiting employees. It reinforces my expectations for hiring in the near term.

Current customers and up-and-coming generations are all looking for the same thing:  a reason to come to the restaurant for their meal as opposed to having it delivered. The experience at the restaurant must be more than just sitting down and eating there.

Another thing I learned is that today’s operators can’t assume that technological innovation is only for large chains. Consumers’ expectations increase with each passing year and the challenges in both front- and back-of-the-house will only continue to expand. Knowledge is the ammunition that operators need to continue to be successful and grow in the future. Tech Tour is an eye opener.”

Association note: If you are interested in receiving an invitation to Tech Tour @ CES 2021, contact Laura Chadwick at lchadwick@restaurant.org.