Updated March 29, 2023 - 10:37 am
The Bar & Restaurant Expo 2023 completes a three-day run Wednesday at the Las Vegas Convention Center, showcasing what’s hot and ahead in hospitality sips and eats. Here are five products and trends that stood out from among nearly 500 exhibitors and thousands of attendees.
You know that old-school game where you manipulate a claw to grab a stuffed animal from a pile in the glass case? It’s harder than it looks. Now substitute miniature bottles of booze and players very likely buzzed and you have the genius of Cocktail Claw. The machine can be purchased for the bar (about $10,000-15,000) or rented for events (including in Vegas) or franchised. Claw settings allow for different prices to play or the ease of the grab. Bar? You’ll need skills. Wedding? Almost everybody gets a bottle! cocktailclaw.com
The country hosted an inaugural pavilion of about 50 Japanese food and drink products. Plant-based steamed bao from Imuraya were properly pillowy, with a savory soy and vegetable filling that nicely stood in for the usual minced pork. Miyabi sweet potato, sourced from Japanese farmers, can be microwaved in minutes for snacks, salads and desserts. (Kudos to the booth staff for sporting sweet potato hats.) Outside the pavilion, there were Yoshino bottled drinks that combine different pulpy fruits with junmai sake. imuraya-usa.com, daichi-inochi.com, yatagarasu.info
Robots worked their CPUs off at the expo, offering samples, making boba drinks and taking a turn down the aisles. One robot sported a programmable kitty face; another danced to “Gangnam Style.” Robots aren’t new to bars and restaurants, but during the industry’s ongoing labor shortage, manufacturers are increasingly positioning them as tireless assistance for hosting, ordering, serving and hauling, plus a general wow factor. The question is: To what extent will robots replace certain restaurant personnel? Today, bartending. Tomorrow, Skynet. todorobotics.com and restaurantrobots.com
We’ve got turf (aka plant-based burgers). Now, there’s surf, a growing category of plant-based foods. Finless Foods served its ahi conjured from winter melon. The product lacks the mercury and ocean impact of real tuna, but the flavor and texture still need work. Cajun breaded shrimp from New Wave Foods, however, successfully delivered the flavor and texture of ocean shrimp. Fittingly, this product is made from seaweed, and from mung bean protein. Cue a basket of fried New Wave with cocktail sauce. finlessfoods.com, newwavefoods.com
Veteran-made coffee and spirits
The 22 Salute company donates a portion of its sales to The Veterans Connection, a nonprofit focused on promoting mental health and preventing suicide among military veterans and first responders. The robustly flavored coffee is roasted over Texas mesquite. The vodka is filtered more than 20 times and comes in a 1-liter bottle that supplies 22 “salute shots” of 1.5 ounces each. Both products are made in the U.S. by veteran-owned outfits. 22salute.com