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The pandemic changed a lot about the restaurant industry, from QR codes to mobile ordering. Recently, I went to the Western Foodservice & Hospitality Expo to see what’s next.

“There’s a lot of trends that wouldn’t have been around in 2022 if there haven’t been COVID because it caused a lot of independent restaurants to do things they weren’t doing before,” explained Rob Grimes of the International Food & Beverage Technology Association.

More, restaurants are leaning on robots to do repetitive tasks.

Torrance-based Wingman Cobot Is making a robotic arm that works alongside humans, prepping multiple espresso shots at once.

“Nowadays it’s really hard to find people to work and even they come to work and last maybe a month,” said Mike Kim of Wingman Cobot. “We want to embed the skills of the barista, 10 years skills of barista embedded into this robotic arm.”

Servi, from Bear Robotics, helps with food running and bussing tables. Chili’s and Denny’s are already using the tech in their restaurants.

“It’s not meant to replace any humans and that’s not really our intent or our goal it’s really to help supplement and be complementary to the service staff that’s already there,” said Kyle Murray of Bear Robotics.

Expect to see more touch screen kiosks as self-service ordering continues to boom.

“This is a solution for business owners to really save cost and also fill in for missing labor,” said Jiwon Kim of Joytech POS. She told me that customers love the ability to tap on the screen, using pictures to see what they’re ordering and customize ingredients.

Meanwhile, tablets are replacing the waiter notepad.

“This portable unit allows the server to go to the tablet and take the order and process the credit card right there on the spot without having to take the credit card away from them,” explained Carlos Rodriguez of Thomas Telecom.

He said customers like the idea of waiters placing their exact order as it’s spoken and the security of credit cards processed on the spot, even with tap to pay.

I saw tabletop chargers that look like one of those pagers restaurants give out during busy waits. The chargers are portable and allow you to juice up your phone while you eat. There’s also a QR code you can scan to see a menu, share photos and even adjust the lighting at your table.

“Sometimes you don’t have your own little charger with Table Dynamics this is a freestanding wireless charger that you can just place your phone on top of,” said Michelle Sou of Table Dynamics.

The oddest innovation I saw at the show is a lightbulb with a small vacuum built in. It’s called the FlyLight and it’s a natural way of trapping annoying flies.

“As the flies go light to light they hit ours… they hit the suction, they get trapped in,” said Warren Roselius of Cleanrth FlyLight, the Arizona-based company behind the $30 bulb.

Once they’re inside, the flies dry up. Just don’t forget to empty the light out every so often.