National Restaurant Association Show 2017

The PDT team attended the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show 2017 in Chicago, IL. With 110 countries represented and attendees from all 50 states, the NRA show touts itself the largest annual food service show on the planet.


PDT an Astronics Company: Product Design and Development Firm in Chicago, IL

first, why.

While there are a few foodies among our ranks at PDT, sampling new goodies is not why we prioritized a visit to the National Restaurant Show this year. We attend many events each year that directly relate to the work we’re doing for current clients; from medical equipment to aerospace solutions, consumer goods to industrial equipment. We’ve had the privilege of collaborating with clients to bring new cooking and food prep products to market, too. But the real motive behind our attendance is to get a sense of cultural cues around food. What is influencing change in something so core to our survival and something so tied to our entertainment and pleasure? What are consumers demanding, what are they accepting and what are they buying? All of these things can then ultimately translate into insightful integration into innovations in any industry.



One of our stand-out observations and a point of curiosity was the juxtaposition of the Farm-to-Table and organic, “real food” movement with the technological influence on “printable” edibles at the show. Do the same consumers want organic produce served at a restaurant with sustainable processes in place AND a cup of coffee adorned with their baby’s face in foam? Who are these people, how are they segmented and is there overlap?


3D printed noodles

Barilla was interested in finding out if there is an interest in restaurants having the ability to print their own unique noodles. This possibility can create a completely new way to experience or taste a meal than ever before.


just print it

Coffee foam art has gained popularity over the last few years as a talent owned by only experienced baristas. The Ripple Maker is a new machine that allows any coffee shop to provide custom coffee foam art. The printer connects with an app to allow users to print any graphic directly onto any cup of coffee, making it easy and fun to use.

>> see it for yourself



If there was any doubt that convenience is a driving factor in today’s purchase behavior, Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods certainly erases any questions. Time is one of the most precious resources to today’s consumer, and if anything taps too aggressively into that resource, its value seems to decrease. Whether delivery right to the door or accessibility to what’s needed when it’s needed and always being “open for business”, people want what they want- and they want it now.


ready for pickup

Restaurants that have adopted app ordering have not changed their restaurants to meet customer needs or demand. This typically leads to chaotic lines and food or drinks that are not as fresh or hot as they could be.


PDT is questioning why the restaurants don’t use GPS to identify when the customer is near and know when to begin making their order.


Companies are starting to explore and offer pickup solutions for app orders.



no humans

Vending machines and ordering kiosks were found throughout the show. Some have elegant solutions, while others did not seem ready for prime time.



Our phones give us access to individually personalized tools that are literally at our fingertips at all times. When it comes to getting exactly what we want, it’s becoming an expectation rather than a delighter. Food is no exception. How that customization is delivered- whether through the design of the experience on location or the interaction on a machine’s user interface, generic encounters will fail.


The days of the donut shop being sold out of your favorite could be over. This company wants you to build your donut just the way you want it.

make it your way


touchscreen interface

More machines have an interactive display on them, and some have even improved their graphics and usability since last year. The equipment is starting to match the experience expected with the younger generation of operators in the market.

Final thoughts

Now that we’ve left you hungry, we hope we’ve also left you with some thought-provoking insights into what consumers are ‘eating up’. A vital part of everyone‘s everyday life, food, and the trends around it, is a great barometer on today’s consumers and what’s driving them.


Has anything we’ve observed taken you by surprise or made you think differently about your market?


Do you want to talk to our team about your next program?





Contributors: Gil Cavada, George Guffey, Erik Moses, Nicole Byer, Jake Vail

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