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The focus of this Branded Insights is about our week spent out in Vegas for the Restaurant Finance & Development Conference (“RFDC”) and the Food On Demand (“FOD”) conference.

Attendance at both conferences were strong with RFDC surpassing its 2019 numbers with over 3,000 attendees and FOD exceeding its expectations by 50% with over 900 attendees.

Here are a few  takeaways:
1. Restaurant Tech is in the early innings!

The pandemic has forced the industry to embrace technology like medicine (as opposed to vitamins), but for all those that have expressed a view that the opportunity has been played out or even missed, we respectfully disagree with you and come away from these two conferences with the conviction that the restaurant industry still remains about a decade behind the retail industry with respect to technology and innovation.

2. Labor ranked as the single biggest challenge

To no one’s surprise, labor was among the biggest issues discussed and it’s hitting the industry in a myriad of ways. There was NO ONE that Branded connected with that feels this issue is going to be resolved. The interesting conversations were therefore about how to address the issue of the increasing cost and lack of available human capital. Automation was a major topic and the critical need to reduce the number of humans in the industry (both on and off premise) by leveraging tech and innovation. Focus also needs to be on saving money in other areas to offset the rising cost of labor. For most of the country, the drop in the cost of real estate and the availability of existing kitchens (and kitchen capacity) was deemed a big positive and tailwind for the industry. A great deal of focus is also being placed on procurement and streamlining the relationship among manufacturers, distributors and restaurants.

3. Supply Chain

The drop in demand caused by the pandemic, followed by a faster-than-expected recovery has created tremendous challenges from EVERYTHING in the industry (from “pickles to major pieces of equipment” according to our friends from Restaurant Business Online). How does the industry respond to this? It’s shifting its attention to items it knows it can source while downplaying those it can’t. The supply and labor issues are highly correlated and we’re seeing that, for example, in brands pushing bone-in chicken offerings b/c boneless requires additional labor. McDonald’s is having trouble sourcing things like bags for takeout and they recently went without enough supplies for milkshakes. Taco Bell warned about not being able to get enough hot sauce. All of these issues are only contributing to the importance of tech and innovation for the restaurant industry.

4. Virtual Kitchens

As you’d expect, the topic of virtual kitchens (ghost kitchens, virtual restaurants, dark kitchens, etc) was a MAJOR topic. Nothing exemplified that more that the keynote speaker at RFDC, Inspire Brands CEO Paul Brown where he discussed Inspire’s Alliance Kitchen. This is a virtual kitchen in Atlanta that houses 5 of its 7 brands including Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Jimmy John’s, Sonic and Rusty Taco. Alliance Kitchen will allow these brands to test ideas and explore how Inspire can merge the back of house as much as possible to get the most efficiencies.


Lastly, we brought the Hospitality Hangout podcast on the Road to Food On Demand, and had 4 incredible guests share their insights not just about the show, but the state of the industry as well. We know you’re going to like what they have to say! Tune is as we chatted live with Michael Beacham, president of Reef, Zack Oates, chief executive officer at OvationTom Kaiser, senior editor at Franchise Times Magazine, and Trish Giordano, chief sales and marketing officer at Earl Enterprises.

Tune in to learn more. You can subscribe and listen to Hospitality Hangout Podcast on Spotify or directly on the Foodable Network.

For information , please get in touch with us directly.