As artificial intelligence becomes a larger part of consumers’ daily lives, it is taking a couple of distinct paths in the restaurant industry. Its generative applications are helping restaurants respond in real time to guest questions in the drive-thru line, as well as draft emails to staff and develop ideas for guest promotions. Its predictive applications are enabling restaurants to make more educated decisions about how to manage inventory, schedule staff, and anticipate guest traffic over a holiday weekend. These applications are increasingly being woven into restaurant tech platforms and becoming just a part of doing business – Square and AzureOpenAI are among the companies whose generative and predictive AI applications being adopted by large brands right now, Restaurant Dive reports.
When deciding where to invest in technology improvements, it makes sense to focus on the back of the house first. Once you have support with employee scheduling, inventory management and other operational functions, your staff should have more time to deliver positive experiences for guests (which also helps them feel more positive about their jobs). This is the approach that Domino’s – long a trendsetter in the restaurant tech space – is taking with their embrace of new AI tools the brand is developing in partnership with Microsoft Cloud and Azure OpenAI Service. According to a recent report from Nation’s Restaurant News, Domino’s is working on a generative AI assistant to support employees and personalize customer service, with special focus on invisible back-of-house technology. The brand’s chief technology officer said she believes helping the team access information and make decisions more quickly can help them respond more promptly and effectively when mistakes are made. This makes people’s jobs easier to do – and will likely trickle into the front of the house in the form of shorter order times, fewer mistakes and a better overall experience. It’s worth bearing in mind as you consider tech priorities, regardless of whether you’re implementing generative AI or not.
Each month, artificial intelligence-powered tools are being adopted in more guest-facing restaurant roles. As a recent article in The Spoon put it, we will likely see the biggest use of this technology in quick-service roles, in particular, because they tend to be lower-paying, higher-turnover jobs. Wendy’s and White Castle are two such brands stepping into this territory – and now delivery providers including Uber Eats and DoorDash also have plans in the works for AI-powered ordering. Once brands have established some history with guest-facing AI, we’ll know more about how it is impacting order accuracy, labor challenges and the guest experience. If the changes are positive, restaurants beyond the quick-service category may well look for ways to weave it into their models too. Could you see a way to use chatbots or other AI tools to support your service?
Right now and into the foreseeable future, artificial intelligence-powered technology is being used to augment human skills by taking on tedious tasks and serving as an assistant to human workers. For example, as a recent Nation’s Restaurant News article indicates, a restaurant using AI-powered tech to track human employees packing orders can alert a staff member in real time when they should put fries in a bag to ensure they don’t get cold waiting to be collected. That said, tasks that are already handled by assistants now — scheduling staff, ordering food and other administrative tasks, for example — may soon be handled by AI with oversight from a restaurant’s general manager. As a result, assistant general manager roles could be reframed in the future. There is potential there to free up resources that can be reapplied in other areas.
The Nation’s Restaurant News 2023 Restaurant Technology Outlook survey found that while a large portion of restaurant operators are planning to invest in guest-facing technology, there is a large untapped opportunity in back-of-house artificial intelligence functions that aren’t visible to your guests. The survey found that only 12 percent of respondents say they use AI-powered sales forecasting and labor scheduling, for example. But there is great potential for savings in these back-of-house functions. Using AI in combination with your collected data can help you analyze your inventory to ensure you’re not overpaying for ingredients, as well as to automate payments — tasks that often require employee labor but don’t have to. Where might you be able to use AI for back-of-house tasks in ways that free up your staff?
When a job candidate submits an application to work at your restaurant, how quickly do you respond? Chances are this person is looking at a range of open positions at a variety of businesses. The first company to respond to them stands a great chance of hiring them, assuming the interviewing process goes well. If a slow response time is making you miss out on good candidates, there are tech tools you can harness to automate the process of making the initial connection with potential staff and selling them on your culture. Workstream, for one, created a ChatGPT-powered chatbot that ushers job candidates through the various stages of the recruitment process and helps match them with potential jobs. Consider what tools might help you fill gaps in your communication with potential hires.
As the food supply chain has gotten more widespread and more complex, it’s become all the more important to monitor it closely. Artificial intelligence can help with that. As food safety specialist Francine Shaw explained in a recent article for FSR Magazine, operators can use AI-based systems to continuously collect and analyze data from many sources, ranging from the FDA to public records, then verify that suppliers are following correct safety protocols. Such tools are available, affordable and can help build trust across your supply chain. Of course, as with all AI tools, they are only as good as the data they are trained on. It’s important to collect accurate data within your operation and audit your AI applications often to make sure you’re getting the most from them.
The fast-evolving developments in generative artificial intelligence have triggered both excitement and anxiety for businesses in recent months. Survey research from Nation’s Restaurant News found that among restaurant operators, there is an appetite for AI but also a knowledge gap when it comes to putting the technology into practice: 41 percent of operators are not using AI but want to, while 27 percent aren’t using AI and don’t plan to. What’s important to realize is that using AI may not even be a choice you have to make. It is already baked into many kinds of software we rely on each day. We are likely using AI without realizing it – and the new technologies and tools we come to depend on to manage all aspects of the restaurant business will evolve to include it as well. Using AI may be as simple as pulling comprehensive forecasts from your POS. Your use of AI may not feel futuristic or flashy, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be powerful for your business.
Generative artificial intelligence (AI) is attracting a lot of attention right now for its ability to create brand-new content – be it audio, video or text. Most recently, ChatGPT, text-based generative AI launched late last year and available for free to the public, has garnered news headlines for its ability to write poems in the style of Shakespeare, publish articles, summarize books, create business plans and even pass medical exams. (DALL-E 2 is the equivalent of ChatGPT for image generation – helping restaurant operators visualize the prospective menu items in their heads.) ChatGPT can deliver curated work, all while sounding conversational. There are huge opportunities for it in businesses – but also risks to bear in mind at this early stage. The conversational tone of ChatGPT’s results make it sound confident and trustworthy, but it requires human intervention to ensure accuracy (and no intellectual property should be shared with it). However, it can be a helpful tool to get the ball rolling when you’re drafting job descriptions, vendor emails, marketing plans or social media posts. Generative AI tools from companies including Google and Meta are pushing the evolution of this technology too and are making it possible for restaurants to quickly generate ideas for audio, video or text content that can be used to run their business and market to guests more effectively.
Whether you operate a drive-thru, or your website or phone line could benefit from some tech-driven labor savings, this may be the year that AI voice technology finally takes off. As a recent report from Nation’s Restaurant News says, 2021 marked the launch of AI voice ordering, 2022 marked its spread, and 2023 marks its improvement and perfection. Specifically, a number of companies (SoundHound is just one) are training the technology to respond more readily to natural speech patterns, versus the Alexa-style way of stating a clear demand in a quiet room and having to take turns speaking. To be sure, AI voice ordering has had a shaky takeoff in some places. But if you’re considering investing in it, expect some perfected versions to emerge this year and beyond – and ask your vendor questions about how they will be training their product to continuously evolve and improve.