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.
How automated are your back-office functions? For all the promise POS systems have when it comes to making such processes more efficient, a recent survey of nationwide restaurant operators across multiple segments found that 60 percent of operators polled still rely on Excel as their primary financial management tool. The survey, completed by Hospitality Tech in partnership with Restaurant 365, found that POS accounting systems could generate significant efficiencies and cost savings for operators if they used the features available to them. Unfortunately, there is still a substantial gap between operators’ goals and the capabilities of the systems they have in place. If you’re looking for a technology accounting partner who can help you buy the right system and get the most from it, Restaurant 365 advises you to assess how clearly the vendor spells out integration options, as well as how those options are maintained and supported. Then find other operators (beyond the ones the vendor provides) who are using the system and can share their experiences.
Your access to customer data can help you strengthen your connections to customers – but only if they’re able to trust you with their personal information. As point-of-sale malware continues to pose problems for restaurants, does your technology go the distance in helping you protect the information customers share with you? Encryption technology can help in some important ways. First, as the hospitality website Emerging reports, encryption scrambles the data that comes across your POS, making it significantly more difficult for hackers to use any data they manage to steal. If you have staff taking payment from guests at their tables, introducing tableside technology, which often encrypts customer data when a card is swiped, can also prevent the skimming of credit card information en route to your POS.
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.
A recent study by NCR and Technomic found that two-thirds of restaurant operators don’t use artificial intelligence (AI) to improve their businesses. The respondents said that if they were to invest in AI, it would be to help drive their mobile ordering, mobile applications and promotions. The restaurant operators surveyed who aren’t yet using AI said they either don’t fully understand its potential benefits or they hesitate to invest in emerging technology. Where do you stand? If you’re among the hold-outs who think AI may have some potential to help your business, imagine being to your most loyal guests what Netflix or Spotify are to people who love movies and music – having the ability to match your guests with meals they may not have considered but are likely to enjoy. AI can both empower your ordering functionality and make it seamless. As a report in Restaurant Technology News explains, on top of allowing a guest to order via mobile app, AI technology can offer functionality like conversational ordering through Facebook Messenger or Alexa. Having voice and chatbot ordering powered by AI can allow your customers to use any kind of phrasing when they place an order. Then, based on a person’s ordering history and cross-comparisons with other customers who have similar tastes, the technology can suggest meals and upsell additional items they are likely to enjoy – instead of leaving those guest experiences to chance.
As your kitchen becomes increasingly connected to the Internet, it becomes a bigger target for cybercrime. At The Spoon’s recent Smart Kitchen Summit, panelists who participated in a segment called Hacking the Oven: Cybersecurity and the Connected Kitchen identified three key takeaways to consider as your business adopts new devices to increase efficiency. First, cybersecurity can’t be something you bolt on to your business; rather, it’s important to make it flow through your operation from the start and to have a culture that values it. Second, both manufacturers and end users play a role in securing devices: manufacturers need to build secure devices with easy-to-install updates, and users need to do their part to protect devices with secure passwords. Finally, security is an ongoing process that requires manufacturers (and users) to have a plan to address vulnerabilities as they arise. Panelists expect to see cybersecurity certification labels on appliances in the near future – much like Energy Star rating stickers – to help end users better identify companies with strong cybersecurity records.
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.
Looking for a new location for your brick-and-mortar restaurant or ghost kitchen? There was a time when operators would select real estate based on who lived in the area and what their spending habits were, but technology is changing the game. Clay Dover, the CEO of Velvet Taco, a 12-unit brand with restaurants in five U.S. cities, told attendees at the recent New York Restaurant Technology Summit that his company is using smartphone technology to pinpoint where consumers are spending their time during the day and late in the evening. That may well not be where they live.
The number of internet-enabled devices is expected to reach 75 billion by 2025, or more than triple the number of such devices in use by the end of 2018, according to the technology firm ITProPortal. A technology-driven restaurant owner can adopt internet-enabled devices to monitor and manage everything from the operation’s food waste to its energy use. While these devices promise significant cost savings and efficiencies, their access to your data creates new points of vulnerability. It is increasingly difficult to prevent security breaches as threats become more sophisticated and employees who aren’t adequately trained leave a business exposed to threats. To help manage such threats, the tech security firm ControlScan advises operators to use next-generation firewalls to limit entry points for malware, and to use a managed security service provider that can identify vulnerabilities in a network, investigate and report security breaches, and troubleshoot other network security problems. Whether you outsource your network security or not, being able to keep tabs on your network in those ways is becoming increasingly important as businesses across sectors find that it’s not a question of if a security event will occur, but when.
Across industries in the U.S., labor productivity has effectively doubled over the past 30 years, according to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the foodservice industry has been among the slowest to grow, at about 80 percent below the national average and ranking just below the post office and just above the mining industry in productivity. The food and beverage strategy firm Aaron Allen & Associates points to one culprit holding the industry’s productivity back: restaurants’ slow adoption of new technologies. The company says the next five years will be more disruptive to foodservice operators than the past 50 years have been, and slow adopters of technology are likely to be left behind. Specifically, technology is making the restaurant experience more and more frictionless for customers and operators alike: Once a consumer gets used to ordering his favorite take-away meal with merely a couple of taps on his phone, then automatically earning loyalty points redeemable for this item at the times of the week when he craves it most, he won’t want to give up that experience. Similarly, once an operator is using tech to monitor everything from the most popular menu items to the functionality of appliances, she has time to focus on providing better customer service, connecting with staff or even scaling up the business. While these updates can be difficult to transition to for an older operation used to managing business more conventionally, restaurant startups are launching with this technology already embedded into their business models ― and it’s giving them a clear advantage when competing with more established brands.