From the Editor: Trending Now

FER chats with Cini-Little's Dick Eisenbarth, one of eight Kitchen Innovations judges, in advance of the 2023 National Restaurant Association Show.

Allison for WEB

Flip through our coverage of the 2023 Kitchen Innovations Award recipients (see Page 50) and you’ll notice labor-saving products, with a special focus on robotics and artificial intelligence, marked a running theme. More than half of the 20 products “take the human interaction out of the equation,” says Dick Eisenbarth, president emeritus of foodservice design firm Cini-Little Int’l. and one of eight judges. The program, part of the National Restaurant Association Show, recognizes the year’s most forward-thinking product innovations that meaningfully improve foodservice operations.

A french fry robotic solution serves as one of Eisenbarth’s favorite recipients. He looks forward to the manufacturer configuring it for other menu items, like mozzarella sticks or onion rings, and adding an automatic bagging feature. He also points to an AI-powered combi oven that automatically chooses the cooking program for a load, freeing employees to do other tasks.

The washing machine for soft serve/shake equipment would have come in handy years ago when Eisenbarth was an area manager for a theme park. “Anything you can just clip onto the machine and have it do its cleaning was a winner in my book,” he says. “It helps with the sanitation, as well as the speed of the cleaning process as you can do multiple machines at the same time.”

Now a judge for seven years, Eisenbarth says what he enjoys most is staying at the forefront of new product development and working with fellow judges. “We all judge each entry independently and record our reasons why we liked or did not like a product and why,” he says. “Then we meet once a week to discuss, and sometimes convince the others to change their vote. Many times we agree but come at it from different perspectives.”

After reviewing so many products over the years, what would Eisenbarth design if he had the chance? “I would create a product that saves significant labor, has a lot of menu flexibility, has a payback in months rather than years, environmentally friendly, takes up a small amount of space and can be fixed quickly if it breaks down,” he says. “We have products out now that meet many of these criteria but not all in one product.” Stay tuned.




Along with the KI Awards showroom, the trade show, running May 20-23 in Chicago, will offer the following:


Hear Eisenbarth speak during a session on Sat., May 20, about kitchen innovations changing the face of back-of-house operations. Brian Ward, principal at Target Market & Media Services and former FER editor-in-chief, and Jim Thorpe, senior foodservice designer at Aramark, also will join him.


New York restaurateur Danny Meyer and Slutty Vegan owner and CEO Pinky Cole will talk about strategies for business growth on Sun., May 21.


Eat and drink at Time Out Market, featuring a sampling of the city’s restaurants and bars, on Mon., May 22. Tickets are $75.


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