Technology’s role in the restaurant business grows more important by the day, yet for those responsible for it there are strikingly few opportunities to learn about new advancements and share workplace experiences.
The lack of such a forum set Rob Grimes, founder & CEO of International Food and Beverage Technology Association, into motion.
Established in 2015 as a nonprofit trade association, IFBTA promotes the use of technology within the global food and beverage industries.
“Its main purpose is to provide networking and education for our members,” Grimes said. “It seemed that there was something missing in the industry. Retail and lodging had industry groups, but food and beverage didn’t, so I saw a need.”
IFBTA is organized by geography, mirroring the restaurant segment of the industry. “When people think about food and beverage brands, they tend to think of them more locally,” Grimes said. “This gave us the idea to have regional meetings. Many restaurant operations grow quickly and not every brand has an IT team, so we wanted the IFBTA to be a reliable source of technology education for them.”
With many members immersed in managing their business, traveling to attend national conferences and tradeshows is difficult, if not impossible. That’s why IFBTA holds regional chapter meetings to make it easier for members to gather, network and share ideas. However, the IFBTA also supports and promotes all global events within the industry where food and beverage technology is featured.
The regional structure has proven quite effective: Today, there are more than 500 members who gather at 40 chapter meetings annually. Each meeting includes an industry-speaking session, an educational roundtable and a networking lunch/dinner. IFBTA has 10 chapters (Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Florida, New England, Southern California, Twin Cities, Washington, D.C.) and two international chapters in Vancouver and London) with another 5-6 under development in 2020. Said Grimes: “The reach is expanding to new cities. Our goal is to promote technology on an open and inclusive basis to all, operators and suppliers alike.”
In addition to chapter meetings, IFBTA hosts events in cities and countries where the organization is not presently represented by a direct chapter. “Each year, we host events in conjunction with the National Restaurant Association and their State Associations, the National Retail Federation and CHART, as well as media organizations such as PRSYM and Winsight Media,” Grimes added.
IFBTA also offers a food and beverage technology certification program.
“We have the industry’s first and only certification program for all restaurant technology,” Grimes said. The program features different modules that walk through basic technology restaurant point-of-sale systems use to more advanced courses in development to provide a “deep-dive” on topics such as POS, back office and data security.
As one of the largest restaurant technology providers domestically and internationally, Oracle Food and Beverage has participated in chapter meetings and industry events with IFBTA globally. The organization collaborates with Oracle because it is “one of the few truly global companies in the restaurant sector and is a company that has technologies in every segment of the industry,” according to Grimes. “The Oracle members are able to share a vast amount of knowledge at our events, which really helps with peer education.”
The partnership also has yielded some memorable moments. At this past year’s FSTEC event in Dallas, the Oracle team won the charity bowling tournament at the IFBTA’s Celebration of Technology. “We had a great time because it was competitive fun, but it also supported a good cause,” Grimes said. “In the future, we’re looking to expand this to be a regional event series throughout the year to raise funds for a variety of industry charities.”
IFBTA plans to continue working with Oracle and expand its international reach. Forward-thinking technologies, such as kiosk ordering, mobile order and delivery, and ghost kitchens, are some topics that members can look forward to discussing in upcoming educational meetings.
“The IFBTA was an idea to give back to the industry,” Grimes said. “I hope it’s around for a long time, well beyond my direct involvement in the industry.”