What if running a profitable restaurant became less about analyzing databases and spreadsheets and more about following AI-generated directions? That’s increasingly becoming a reality for some restaurants. In a recent roundup from Modern Restaurant Management about major disruptions to expect in the coming decade, AI applications were among the major changes industry insiders expect. David Bloom, chief development and operations officer for Capriotti’s, sees increasing potential for video to work hand-in-hand with AI – using facial recognition to identify guests and connect them with loyalty programs, reducing theft by video monitoring, and improving employee performance by monitoring their actions and providing on-the-spot upselling and service advice. #restauranttech
How seamless is the smartphone ordering experience you offer customers? Between 2015 and 2018, the percentage of consumers who ordered food via smartphone or mobile app more than tripled, according to a report from Grit Daily, and research from Business Insider Intelligence predicts mobile orders will comprise 11 percent of all quick-service sales this year. Enabling voice ordering – which is on the rise in other areas of ecommerce – may help to set your business apart. A presentation from Mastercard at the National Restaurant Association show last year reported that of the 74 million Americans who use smart speakers every month, 62 percent of them have used voice ordering to purchase retail items but less than 8 percent have purchased food and beverage. Considering the room for growth, voice ordering is likely to be among the next improvements mobile apps offer to make ordering food as easy as asking Alexa to play your favorite song.
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.
At Winsight’s September FSTEC conference, where restaurant operators gathered to hear about up-and-coming developments in technology, voice recognition showed special potential as a tech tool to watch – particularly for its back-of-house functions. Consumers are becoming more comfortable with voice recognition as an everyday convenience – emarketer predicts that more than one-third of the U.S. population will use a voice assistant monthly this year, up 9.5 percent from 2018. That has paved the way for voice recognition becoming more common as a means of enabling consumers to place orders more efficiently from home and on the road (note McDonald’s new purchase of Apprente, a startup building technology to automate voice ordering in multiple languages, which McDonald’s could implement in its drive thru, mobile and kiosk ordering). Voice recognition’s applications beyond ordering have been slower to develop, but that is now changing, according to Restaurant Business. Presenters at FSTEC identified such uses of voice recognition technology as providing food preparation instructions for kitchen staff who aren’t able to leave their stations to look at a recipe or search for directions on a computer screen. Chowly CEO Sterling Douglass said while there is still a long way for restaurants to go when using voice recognition at the back of the house for this purpose, those that are using it with human backup are already seeing 50 percent reductions in cost. For operators looking for additional ways to operate with smaller teams or otherwise cut labor costs, voice recognition could be an additional tool in their toolbox.
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.
Could voice-activated ordering have a place in your business? The technology is poised to change the mobile ordering landscape in the near future. The consulting firm Capgemini expects consumers to use voice technology for 18 percent of their total spending within three years — up from 3 percent now. Forbes reports that Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, Denny’s, Wingstop and Fazoli’s are among the brands that now offer voice ordering, with many using Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service, a chatbot or some combination to allow customers to place an order. The tech startup Orderscape, which currently works with brands including Fazoli’s, reports being in discussions with more than 20 other brands looking to build business via voice search. Orderscape’s CEO predicts the technology will soon evolve into a more interactive, frictionless conversation in which the customer can order the full menu — not simply place a reorder or choose from a slimmed-down variety of options.