The Virtual Next Recap: Top Trends and a Recap of the #NRAShow

By Bijan Shahrokhi in Mobile Loyalty, NRA Show

Recently Bijan Shahrokhi and Elliot Atkins, 2 of our founders, attended the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago and came back with the following feedback on the state of the restaurant industry.

What were the top trends at the NRA show?

There were 3 trends that stood out more than any others:

  • Big Data and business management with services like
  • Mobile Loyalty: express challenges with apps and why ours stood out
  • Mobile Payment: not everyone is ready yet. That’s why our solution is hybrid and you can turn it on at any time.

It is apparent that both technology service providers and restaurant operators are starting to realize the benefits of leveraging technology to become more efficient and increase revenue. Some of these companies are focused on data analytics and managing customer information. Technology was a singularly important segment of the show, and the NRA blog followed up the show with a 5 Tech Trends post; of course loyalty reward programs made the list.

The NRA Show is also expanding. Next year, they are going to be adding another hall to bring the total number to 4 to accommodate the large crowds in attendance.

We did take note that there were approximately 5 to 10 app developer companies in attendance, but Virtual Next was the only non-app Mobile Loyalty program. It really helped us stand out in the crowd, and our story also made a lot of sense to the people we spoke with. After sharing our opinions on whether or not someone should do an app, the booth visitor would generally get the idea of the benefits of our technology and be excited about the solution.

We particularly loved the Chobani yogurt.

What are the “pain points” in the QSR Industry that surfaced at the show?

It is difficult for the merchant to decide what the right solution/service is; there are a tremendous amount of offerings, and they’re expensive and confusing. For example, there are app providers that charge $45K to launch the service. Which one makes more sense for them? They usually don’t know.

Our service doesn’t require any initial investment because it isn’t an app.  Most merchants need more education and technical knowledge to make a better decision.

How was Virtual Next received?

We were really pleased with the results of the show, coming away with much more interested leads over last year. There was a lot more interest in our product and engaging conversation with people, possibly because mobile loyalty is catching on, and our real life client success stories resonated with the attendees.

Do you see the QSR Customer willing to evolve with mobile technology?

Most definitely. People know they need a mobile solution to stay relevant, but the app piece doesn’t make sense to them. Many still don’t know that other options like our solution exist. Almost everyone who heard the story of our app-less technology quickly understood why it made so much sense in comparison to apps.

It’s funny. We asked every single restaurant operator how many restaurant apps they have on their phone: all of them said 0 or 1 (usually Starbucks). So, it was an interesting revelation when they realized they were trying to offer their customers something they didn’t fine valuable in their everyday lives.

This was totally counter to their general business philosophy: would you sell a food you wouldn’t even buy for yourself?

What were your top 3 takeaways from the show?

  • People are becoming more aware of value of technology and are showing more interest than before.
  • There is a lack of knowledge in technology and how to benefit from it, which is stopping some decision makers from making a decision. They don’t know what the right choice is, so they are in a holding pattern.
  • Healthy food brands are starting to gain more traction.

Did the show alter your vision, even slightly, and have an impact on you company’s next steps?

We came away from the show more determined and self assured than we were before; it reinforced both our vision and our philosophy. We are excited and appreciated the chance to talk once again with people we met last year, and talk to existing clients. The NRA show is a great place to have face to face conversations, far too uncommon in this technology driven world.

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