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Add Some Tech to Your Talk: Highlights from our First Annual Chicago Tech Tour


The foodservice and technology industries are inescapably intertwined. From apps and online ordering to point of sale systems and automation, technology will continue to influence operations and processes for restaurants.

And the technology? It changes fast. Last week, the IRA hosted its first annual Chicago Tech Tour, uniting restaurateurs and technology professionals for a daylong conversation about the blending of the two industries. The Tech Tour was developed to connect restaurant industry leaders with some of the most dynamic and creative technology companies in Chicago. Several IRA member companies and partners got the unique opportunity to engage directly with technology pioneers and innovators, increasing their knowledge and understanding of the technological advances affecting their businesses. After the success of the first annual event, the IRA is looking forward to expanding the tour in the future.

The first stop on Tech Tour was 1871, Chicago’s digital incubator, where attendees learned about cutting edge technologies and Chicago’s evolution into a culinary epicenter. The group heard from Sam Toia, President & CEO of the IRA, Geoff Alexander of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, and key members of the tech world from Tock, Inc., Good Food Accelerator, AT Kearney and 1871.

"On a daily basis technology is changing the way restaurants compete,” explained Geoff Alexander, Executive Vice President of the Wow Bao division of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. “Recognizing this, the Illinois Restaurant Association, in conjunction with the National Restaurant Association, showcased the latest and most exciting technological advances in the food spectrum that Chicago has to offer. The IRA Chicago Tech Tour gave restaurant operators a first hand look at what is being developed, and how it will impact their operations."

The morning started with insights from Howard Tullman, CEO of 1871, who provided an overview of Chicago’s tech landscape and the evolving consumer demographic. Noting the population’s interconnectedness and thirst for new tech, the discussion detailed emerging systems like Amazon Dash, the one-touch Amazon-connected shopping button that re-stocks items like laundry detergent and groceries with expedited delivery. In addition to these advances, the group heard from the Good Food Accelerator, which assists local farmers in reaching demand from the growing popularity of farm-to-table and sustainable cuisine, and details on the effect this has on the global environment shared by AT Kearney.

Attendees moved on to Google’s new Chicago headquarters in the West Loop to get an insider’s look at their company culture and products specially made for businesses. From Google My Business to Payments to Waze, Google’s impressive systems can be great assets for restaurateurs. Things like increased functionality on the business end to update hours, highlight special events, and populate reviews to frictionless payment and loyalty programs are helpful tools for operations of all sizes. As advertising methods change to adapt to the consumers’ desire for fast and easy information, Waze (a Google-owned navigation system) adapts too, introducing geo-targeted ads to reach consumers as they commute nearby.

The Tech Tour concluded at the Illinois Technology Association, where the group heard from tech leaders focusing on hospitality management like Stratex, SIM Partners, InContext Solutions, Hireology and Restaurant HR Group. The afternoon focused on HR systems, training, and business development. Stratex, for example, provides a one-stop shop for businesses, offering automated payroll tracking, time and labor management, performance review, new applicant tracking and more in one, easy to use system.

Mapping The Technology Landscape

So, what tech trends have taken off in the hospitality industry? According to a 2016 survey by the National Restaurant Association (NRA) that surveyed 500 restaurants nationwide, four in five restaurant operators agree that technology helps increase sales, makes their business more productive and provides a competitive advantage. The most common consumer facing tech systems are websites, Wi-Fi for guests and online ordering, while point-of-sale systems remain the most used back-of-the-house tech tool by far, with 81% of restaurants implementing a POS system. Since 2011, the number of operators using a POS system has nearly doubled, with functions like credit card processing, labor management and inventory management as the main drivers for implementation.

Almost one third of operators surveyed said that their restaurant is lagging in technology use. With new tech rolling out at a rapid pace, the NRA provides an idea of the tech trajectory for the next five years. Customer ordering is expected to be the most important area of development for the industries, followed by loyalty programs. Restaurateurs agree on the benefit of these consumer-facing technologies, and they agree on the biggest barrier for implementation: cost.

As the world continues to be flooded with new technology, restaurant operators will be faced with the challenge of applying these advances or not. Perhaps a portion of consumers want to reserve a table online, order through an app and pay from their mobile device. But perhaps there’s another segment that wants to walk-in, be handed a printed menu and pay in cash. For as many ways as there are to utilize technology, there are unique restaurant concepts that will apply tech differently. Assessing the choices and strategizing ways to put them best to use is the goal, and it’s up to each operator to determine what’s effective for their business from the vast array of impressive systems. With the hospitality and technology industries continuing to work hand in hand, the possibilities for the future are bright.

For more information on Chicago Tech Tour 2016 or how to be a part of Chicago Tech Tour 2017, please contact Eric Fine at (312) 380-4115 or

To purchase the full Mapping the Technology Landscape report from the National Restaurant Association, click here.

Flavor Profile

Meet Maria Monastero, Manager of Monastero’s Ristorante & Banquets

This month, Maria Monastero shared heartfelt history and insight into her family’s restaurant - Monastero’s Ristorante & Banquets - a staple of Chicago's Northwest side. The authentic Sicilian restaurant celebrates 55 years in 2017.

  • Tell us a little about the restaurant's history. How did you and your family get where you are today?
    • Monastero's was founded in 1962 as LaCanopy Pizzeria & Ristorante by my father Joseph Monastero, my aunt Gina Monastero, and my uncle Salvy Monastero. In 1967 they moved two doors down to open our current location as Monastero's Ristorante & Banquets and by 1992 we had built four banquet halls accommodating up to 300 guests. Salvy greeted the customers, purchased the produce at the South Water Market and cut the meat. Joe bartended, played the accordion for the guests, sang with Salvy and ran the business. Gina made all of the manicotti, cannelloni, lasagna and cannoli at home and sent them to the restaurant with her brothers. This was the essence of a true family restaurant, Sicilian style–it all sounds very romantic but the days were filled with hard work. Our dedication to customer service, high quality produce, and traditional flavors while welcoming guests into our family at each visit is how we (my father Joseph, mother Martha, Cousin Maria Elisabeth, and myself) continue the Monastero family tradition.
  • To what do you attribute your success?
    • I have worked with my family for 13 years, and I truly believe our success comes from consistent flavors, quality and the continued presence of our family. Our restaurant is owned and operated by my family. I drive my truck to pick out produce and additional inventory items beyond what our suppliers deliver. My cousin Maria is our banquet manager; our events are booked and planned by a Monastero and run by a Monastero. My mother runs the office and manages staff. We are the face you see when you ask for a manager. This makes us successful because our hands remain in every detail, and that helps us uphold the tradition of Monastero’s.
  • What is your favorite thing about Italian cuisine?
    • My favorite part of Sicilian cuisine is how we gather ingredients from all cultures surrounding the Mediterranean. Nuts like currants, pine nuts, walnuts and almonds. Herbs like sage, rosemary, oregano, and thyme. So many of our cooking techniques are similar to the Greeks, Romans, and Turks. Our cuisine is our history and it is rich, bold, savory, unique and flavorful. An Italian and Sicilian meal should make you feel like you have been hugged from the inside out. The cuisine encompasses a lifestyle; eating until you can eat no more, drinking until you are as happy as can be, and doing both in the company of good friends and family.
  • What is your biggest reward working in the restaurant industry?
    • Our biggest reward over the past 55 years is our customers. The way our guests stay loyal to us first for their wedding, then returning for the baptism of their first child, then years later for an anniversary dinner, and even through the passing of loved ones is rewarding. This means we do right by them by providing a great meal and customer service, providing our customers with what they have asked for. The restaurant industry is forever changing. To say we try to keep up is not true. All we strive for is to maintain what Joe, Salvy & Gina began in 1962 when they came to America to live out their dreams. This mindset for me, my cousin Maria, and my mother Martha will keep us going strong for many years to come.
  • What do you see as being the most valuable resources/service that the IRA provides you?
    • I value the recommendations of the IRA to the greatest degree. Since we have joined we have switched to many of their preferred vendors and without a doubt have had wonderful experiences from start to finish. The IRA has built a team who truly exist to support restaurants and their owners. They will answer any question or direct me to whoever can answer it best. They are working for us to help us. They are approachable, easily accessible and work as an extension of their member restaurants. It’s a hard balance to achieve, but they do it with such ease.
  • What are you looking forward to in 2017?
    • 2017 is our 55th year in Chicago and I am most looking forward to celebrating! We have great events scheduled for 2017, including our annual opera competition, BelCanto, and of course our Stomping of the Grapes in the Fall. I have so many new dishes to introduce to our customers and new sauces for them to explore. I grew up watching my Dad in the kitchen, and I am so happy to continue his legacy with the finest flavors. 2017 arrives with our banquets booking strong and our restaurant welcoming new guests. Our family could not be more grateful for the continued opportunity to serve Chicago.
  • Do you have any advice for aspiring restaurateurs?
    • I’m not sure I’ve been in the business long enough to give advice! I can wish aspiring restaurateurs luck and wish them a vision which matches their energy, because this business takes energy. It takes passion. It takes drive. I think of how my family came from Sicily and dreamed so big, and they created a home for people to celebrate each other and life through their food and wine. From a small town in Sicily to a city block in Chicago, Illinois. I think that's amazing. I am so lucky to continue our traditions and the vision of my family. It is such an honor.

For more information on Monastero’s, please visit or check out Monastero's on Facebook and Instagram.



Preparing for New Federal Overtime Rules - Are You Compliant?


The new federal overtime regulations that are scheduled to take effect Dec. 1, 2016 - barring any last-minute legal developments - will represent one of the biggest workplace changes for restaurants in years. To help ensure your restaurant is ready - be sure to review the latest overview and compliance materials from the National Restaurant Association.

The Changes
Starting Dec. 1, 2016, the new U.S. Department of Labor regulations guarantee federal overtime pay to almost all employees earning less than $913 a week ($47,476 a year). That’s more than double the previous salary threshold of $23,660. For the first time, the new rules allow certain nondiscretionary bonuses, incentives or commissions to be applied to up to 10 percent of the salary threshold. The regulation also automatically increases the salary level every three years starting Jan. 1, 2020.

Concerns Remain 
Two federal lawsuits have been filed to challenge the overtime rule. In one case, attorneys general from 21 states have filed an emergency request asking a federal district court to put the overtime rule on hold until the judge can rule on the cases’ merits. A decision on this emergency request could come as early as Nov. 22. Over the longer run, many members of Congress – and perhaps officials in the incoming Trump Administration – say the new salary threshold is too much, too fast, and are pressing to modify the rule. They also oppose automatic indexing of the salary level in the future. However, it’s unclear if, when, or how the courts, Congress or the new Administration will act.

Given the uncertainty of action in the courts, Congress or the new White House, employers must take the necessary steps to implement the new regulations as of Dec. 1. The National Restaurant Association offers an overview of the changes here. Ongoing details are available at, and a more extensive overview will be available the week of Nov. 28.

The Illinois Restaurant Association will continue to provide updates and resources for employers on overtime regulations. We strongly encourage employers to consult with legal counsel when taking action to ensure compliance. Please contact Matt Quinn, IRA Government Relations & Communications Manager, at (312) 380-4122 or with any questions.


A La Carte

US Foods: Your Source for Food Innovation


Inspire your menu and feed your passion with US Foods’ magazine, Scoop. What’s Scoop? It’s about food and fresh ideas that inspire your menu and attract new customers. It’s about creating an optimized kitchen that moves fast but serves up healthy and delicious fare. It’s devoted to giving you the best in new and innovative ingredients and fresh ideas, three times a year.

Celebrating the 5th year anniversary of Scoop, US Foods brings you an innovative lineup of steakhouse favorites – updated with exciting new ingredients, so you can reimagine your entrees with new culinary personality. From bone marrow to All Natural Grass Fed Ribeye Steaks, US Foods offers unique items to “steak your claim” on signature creations. US Foods helps you make it in more ways than one:

Inspire Your Menu
From three Scoop product launches a year to top quality products, US Foods is taking a fresh approach to food. Let them help you create something special.

Attract More Customers
Their culinary and operations experts are here to help you grow and manage all aspects of your business. They have the tools and services to gain your consumers’ attention.

Optimize Your Operations
It comes down to time, money and management. From food to logistics, accounting to operations, US Foods can help turn your business into a lean, money-making machine. Their tools help you understand your true costs, stay connected no matter where you are, and order online.

US Foods – We Help You Make It.

Find the latest from Scoop here. For more information on the products and services that US Foods can offer your business, email IRA Advisory Council Member Jeff Forkenbrock of US Foods at



Celebrate Any Occasion with Morgan MFG


Morgan Manufacturing is Chicago's leading production location hosting film, television and private events on all levels. Comprised of multiple rooms that can be joined as desired, the space can host an intimate gathering of 200 or up to an astounding 1,000 guests for cocktails. Morgan Manufacturing's mission is to advance the creative expression of Chicago's cultural roots by creating, producing, and hosting cutting edge experiences for your guests.

Located in the burgeoning Fulton Market neighborhood, Morgan Manufacturing gives its guests an opportunity to create unique experiences in a historic factory setting. Morgan’s industrial elegance features 8-foot tall custom “bike chain chandeliers,” glass, steel, skylights and a three-story performance activation area to create unique backdrops.

Whether it’s a wedding, corporate event, cocktail party, or charity gala, Morgan Manufacturing’s in-house events team has decades of experience to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on whatever you might need. From in-house AV equipment to catering kitchens, furniture, and more, Morgan Manufacturing will make your next event distinct and memorable.

For more information, please visit and follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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