Don’t fear introducing artificial intelligence (AI) at your restaurant – especially if it keeps the cost of menu items downs or streamlines the ordering process. Those were two key takeaways of a recent survey of more than 2,000 adults about consumer perceptions about quick-service and fast-casual restaurants. The survey, which was conducted this past September by the Harris Poll for the ad-tech firm AdTheorant, found that 71 percent of respondents would be amenable to these restaurants using AI in their business, particularly if it controlled costs (43 percent) or sped up the ordering process (43 percent). Those factors came in ahead of AI’s ability to offer “personalized food recommendations based on previous orders” (22 percent) but that may change once consumers gain more experience with the small but growing number of brands – McDonald’s among them – that are rolling out personalization technology.
Nowadays, it’s nearly impossible to gather a group of people for a meal and not have food allergies and intolerances come up in conversation. From gluten sensitivity to lactose intolerance to the need to reduce sodium or sugar intake, there is a broad spectrum of dietary customization to consider. A restaurant that can accommodate consumers’ dietary needs and still provide flavorful dishes will build a loyal following. The customization trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and in fact appears to be deepening: Consider the likes of tech startups like GenoPalate, which the Spoon dubs “Ancestry DNA for your diet.” Like Ancestry DNA, the company uses a swab test to scan for certain genetic markers. Then it uses that information to assess how much of 24 key nutrients a person needs, along with any sensitivities to lactose, gluten, caffeine or alcohol, and then provides a list of foods best suited to the person’s genetic makeup. While one-size-fits-all dining may not exactly be on the way out, there is a significant opportunity for chefs who can provide extreme customization. Can you make it possible for guests to not just substitute gluten-free crust for traditional crust on a pizza, but to empower them to build a meal from scratch (with some guidance) that meets their taste preferences and dietary needs?
Imagine being in the midst of a dinner rush and having all of your best staff on hand to provide superior service to guests. Artificial intelligence (AI) is making it possible for more of those experiences to happen for operators. There is a lot of buzz about the potential of AI to tap into guest insights, but it can also help operators make more informed decisions about staff schedules and improve staff management. As Restaurant Technology News reports, AI can help operators adjust scheduling plans based on local weather or events that may impact restaurant traffic – and automatically match up that information with data on which servers have successfully upsold the most checks recently.
The applications of artificial intelligence (AI) in restaurants still have many directions to go. As Restaurant Dive reports, while AI is already helping Chick-fil-A identify food safety problems, McDonald’s and Sonic fine-tune their drive-thrus and Chipotle take phone orders, Outback has identified yet another application of the technology. In an effort to improve its guest experience, Outback is testing an AI system that uses lobby cameras to record interactions between employees and guests, track wait times and identify when people leave without being greeted or seated. While the initial program focuses on employee-guest interactions in the lobby, it may expand to include the kitchen, curbside pickup and dining room. Data from the AI system is sent to managers in real time so they have an opportunity to resolve problems before a guest has an opportunity to leave a negative review.
A restaurant server taking an order could have ample reason to avoid upselling a guest: Perhaps the guest or the server is in a hurry, for example, or the guest seems decisive about what he wants (or doesn’t want) to order. Valyant AI is trying to help operators avoid those scenarios. At the recent Restaurant Technology Summit in New York, artificial intelligence (AI) was used to show how restaurants can provide the human touch without missing out on opportunities to upsell. Restaurant Business reports that Snooze, an A.M. Eatery, and the burger chain Good Times are testing an AI system from Valyant AI that converses with guests placing an order and never misses an opportunity to upsell. Valyant’s CEO said the system once successfully upsold 23 percent of the orders it took in a day.
Looking to evolve your methods of collecting guest feedback? Artificial intelligence has been creeping into this space and helping restaurant operators and other businesses assemble reliable data from guests. Chatter is one company to watch. As the Financial Post reports, Chatter has created a tool that uses machine learning to create natural-sounding text messages from the brand. A guest who opts in receives an automated text message with some open-ended questions about the experience they just had. As Chatter puts it, it’s like having a constantly running focus group that depends on conversation instead of a numbered ratings system. Chatter says its platform collects feedback across 850 different categories – more than the 50 to 60 that traditional AI platforms offer – and then assembles completed results into data that can be viewed on a dashboard that helps operators see what is and isn’t working. Chatter won accolades from the Information Technology Association of Canada last year and its AI chatbot is already in use by the likes of McDonald’s and a number of retail brands.
Consumers are getting increasingly comfortable with (and even reliant on) digital assistants. For proof, just ask Alexa: Earlier this year, Amazon announced it had sold more than 100 million Alexa devices to date. For their part, Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri have hundreds of millions of users apiece. Foodservice brands are finding new ways to tap into consumers’ growing ease with such tech tools. Take Aramark, which has partnered with the tech company Mashgin to expand its use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the baseball parks where it operates. Mashgin offers express self-checkout kiosks that are capable of scanning multiple items at once without barcodes, Verdict Foodservice reports. The result is a faster payment and a shorter time waiting in line for consumers, a valuable service when you’re dashing to pick up food and merchandise between innings. Every transaction then feeds data back to Aramark about consumer preferences.
It may still sound futuristic, but as artificial intelligence (AI) applications appear in the restaurant industry, you will want to ensure your technology can adapt to enable them. As DineEngine reports, there are a number of AI-enabled enhancements making it possible for operators to improve sales and customer relations. Are there hiccups in your ordering process? A chatbot or virtual assistant can lead someone through placing an order, suggest food based on the person’s preferences and never forget to upsell profitable additions. They can also handle customer inquiries and orders at any time of day or night, so instead of a staff member taking time to discuss a catering order during your dinner rush, your chatbot can iron out the details overnight.
Artificial intelligence (AI) might still sound a little futuristic — or like technology that mainly large national brands can harness at this stage. But the next decade should be eye-opening: By 2030, almost 70 percent of businesses will use some form of AI in their operation, according to McKinsey research. Restaurants that readily understand how to adopt it and where it can provide the greatest value should be able to gain a competitive advantage. Restaurant Nuts suggests two areas that are ripe for AI adoption in restaurants of any size: improving sourcing and translating reams of data into sales. For example, when you consider your inventory, how accurate are you able to be about the items you will need? Do you rely on last year’s data mixed with some guesswork? AI can use predictive analytics that incorporate historical data from a range of relevant periods, along with weather, holidays and other factors that can impact demand, to help eliminate the trial and error that can waste money. Further, even if you have a POS system that gathers thousands of data points about your guests, that data is only useful to you if you’re able to analyze it quickly and apply it to strategies that will keep guests happy and returning. AI can help operators by collecting a wide range of data about everything from sales to purchasing, then assessing it against current consumer trends. As a result, you’ll be able to make decisions in real time, not weeks or months behind schedule. Forbes reports that the hospitality technology company Fourth, which supports such brands as TGI Friday’s, Eataly, Bar Louie and Dairy Queen, among others, is one that has expanded into AI recently. Other reports indicate that McDonald’s uses AI to find diverse employee candidates. Look for more restaurant technology systems to start to integrate AI functionality into their software.
Consumer taste trends change fast — often faster than operators are able to forecast themselves. Now, AI is helping food companies stay a step ahead of consumer demand. Food Dive reports that the tech startup Tastewise surveys billions of food and beverage data points including one billion food photos shared monthly, 153,000 U.S. restaurant menus and more than one million recipes. It then synthesizes that information to pinpoint up-and-coming, on-trend ingredients and other market opportunities to meet consumer demand. The insights are both local and national so they may help operators identify micro trends as well as more widespread consumer preferences.