Top 3 Tech Lessons from NRF 2024

Retail’s “Big Show” showcases critical breakthroughs that restaurant operators and hoteliers must consider.
nrf 2024 welcome
John Furner, President and CEO, Walmart U.S., and Chairman of the National Retail Federation, welcomes attendees to NRF 2024 (image courtesy of the National Retail Federation).

With more than 400 speakers in 190 sessions, the National Retail Federation's Big Show (aka NRF 2024) at the Javits Convention Center in New York City (January 14-16) offers more thought leadership and actionable insights than we could easily summarize — including a welcome address by John Furner, President and CEO, Walmart U.S., and Chairman of the National Retail Federation and a keynote by Magic Johnson. But reviewing highlights through the lens of restaurant and hospitality technology, some major themes and lessons emerge from the show. 

In fact, when Furner sat down for a fireside chat with Marc Benioff, Chair and CEO, Salesforce, they noted that tech innovations such as artificial intelligence (which was, as expected, the subject of much discussion at this year’s show) are neither inherently good or bad — it’s what you do with technology that matters. 

Here, three top tech lessons for restaurants and hotels from NRF 2024.

Handheld tablet
At NRF 2024, bartaco's Scott Lawston shared how the dine-in restaurant is simplifying the order and payment experience.

1. Redefine Surprise & Delight With Next-Level Guest Empowerment

A restaurant or hotel technologist browsing booths and sessions at NRF — including the Innovation Lab — will notice how grocery and convenience stores are trailblazing frictionless solutions, from automated payment, smart carts, and mobile tools for store associates. The restaurant chain bartaco is bringing similar benefits to the dining experience from ordering to payment.

In “Food for Thought: bartaco Delights Customers Through Checkout Optimization,” Deborah Matteliano, Global Head, Restaurant Technology, AWS, HT's 2023 Top Women in Restaurant Technology - Innovator Award winner, moderated a session with Debbie Martindale, Sr. Enterprise Solutions Architect at Amazon Pay; Scott Lawton, CEO & Co-Founder at bartaco, a 2022 MURTEC Breakthrough Award winner; and Rom Krupp, CEO & Founder at OneDine, to share insights, including:

  • The focus is on simplifying the order and payment experience, allowing customers to concentrate on their guests rather than being stuck on their phones, notes Lawton.

    HT Talks Tech: bartaco Co-Founder and CEO Scott Lawton
  • bartaco receives outstanding customer feedback, with approximately 400 surveys per day per restaurant, showcasing the positive response to the technology.
  • The ability to create individual baskets for each person at the table enhances data collection, providing insights into customer preferences and behaviors, says Krupp.
  • bartaco is truly revolutionizing the dine-in restaurant experience, empowering guests to take control and making ordering and payment more convenient.
NRF 2024 infographic
NRF 2024 showcased critical breakthroughs that restaurant operators and hoteliers must consider.
GenAI supply chain

2. Deploy GenAI to Make Workers More Agile & Responsive

As artificial intelligence provokes vigorous development and debate, the deployment of generative AI (which employs machine learning to mine existing sources and data networks to produce original text and images) is providing the retail workforce with insights to do their job better and faster. 

Helen Davis, SVP, Head of North America Operations, Kraft Heinz, joined executives from Macy’s, Stuch Fix, Icado Group, and Arteli to discuss how AI-powered solutions for predicting demand, optimizing stock levels, and monitoring the real-time status of inventory throughout the supply chain. As reported by Lisa Johnston, Editor-in-Chief at EnsembleIQ’s Consumer Goods Technology, Davis announced that Kraft Heinz is developing KraftGPT, an internal generative AI app, allowing employees to quickly gain insights into product sales and related queries. Highlights of KraftGPT:

  • Davis describes the app as an "Ask Me Anything" platform, enabling employees to inquire about trends, such as sudden increases in product popularity, fostering a data-driven culture.
  • Kraft Heinz emphasizes building a "self-driving supply chain" with predictive technologies allowing factories to foresee line downtime and improve forecasts based on customer data.
  • A "cognitive decision layer" creates a digital twin for each supply chain member, facilitating autonomous reactions to changing consumer demands, a lesson learned from the pandemic's impact.
  • Approximately 50 dedicated data scientists collaborate in Agile pods, aligning with the "Agile@Scale" strategy, to quickly feed transactional data into the Kraft Heinz data lake and report quarterly to leadership.
  • The company aims for end-to-end visibility, connecting retail shelves to farmers, improving communication with retail partners, and enhancing forecasting insights shared with both retail and agricultural stakeholders.
retail hologram

3. Say Hello to Holograms

NRF attendees got a very clear message about the near-term potential of holograms — NRF President and CEO, Matthew Shay, literally appeared via ARHT holographic technology to greet them at the Innovation Lab entrance. It was a bold statement underscoring the ability of holograms to capture and hold consumer attention not only in stores, but also in restaurants, hotels, airports, casinos, and more.

Among a range of impressive hologram technology companies, Proto Hologram made a splash by announcing RetailSage, a holographic conversational AI platform for retail. RetailSage can offer product expertise and recommendations in response to customer queries, creating an engaging and immersive retail experience.

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