Eating places use AI to streamline meals preparation and ordering

From drive-thru to back-of-house operations to predictive ordering for consumers, restaurant brands are beginning to pilot artificial intelligence to optimize food service.

The technology has yet to reach critical mass at large chains, but it has the potential to automate more tasks and empower restaurant workers to have a more meaningful experience with guests.

According to analysts, a key benefit is that it can mitigate workforce challenges in a persistently tight hiring market. The National Restaurant Association predicts the industry will create 500,000 jobs by the end of 2023, but notes that there is currently only one job seeker for every two open positions.

Additionally, TD Cowen estimates that voice-enabled AI can increase sales by up to 15% through suggestive selling and cut service times by 10 seconds.

According to Andrew Charles, managing director of consumers and restaurants at TD Cowen, the change in the industry is reminiscent of the emergence of third-party delivery services five years ago, before it was ubiquitous at almost every major restaurant operator.

“Some have tried, some are considering, most have tested,” he said of third-party delivery apps. “I think there’s a clear analogy to today where it’s very similar and if we continue to see further adoption of that, you’re going to see a knock-on effect here.”

However, according to Charles, there are still hurdles to widespread adoption. Many of these large restaurant chains need to get franchisees on board. Language barriers and menu nuances can add complexity to the ordering process, which AI may not be able to navigate.

In the meantime, the wave of pilot programs has already begun.

Last month, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s parent company, CKE, announced that it plans to roll out nationwide via partnerships with AI integrations Presto and OpenCity AI.

Yummy! Brands In recent years, the company has been at the forefront of using AI to streamline operations, including acquiring Dragontail in 2021 to streamline food preparation and delivery. The technology, which automates kitchen operations, driver delivery and customer order tracking, is used at 1,000 Pizza Hut locations in the United States and nearly 3,000 more worldwide. The company also relies on AI for its featured ordering engine, which lets managers know how much product to order each week.

MC DonaldsIn 2021, the company in turn sold McD Tech Labs to IBM, entering into a strategic partnership to bring AI technology to thoroughfares. McD Tech Labs, formerly known as Apprente before it was acquired by McDonald’s, used AI to understand drive-through orders. So far, McDonald’s has tested the technology at certain locations.

Del Taco also uses voice-enabled AI to place orders at its drive-thru store wing stop for phone orders.

Panera Bread has also invested in technology in both the front and back of house. It works with OpenCity AI on drive-thru voice ordering and with Miso Robotics to ensure coffee quality and temperature control and improve product consistency.

For Panera, the question is, “How can we leverage our people to deliver higher value, higher quality guest experiences,” said Chief Digital Officer George Hanson. “Whether they’re spending more time on food prep and quality control, or on face-to-face interaction,” Hanson said in an interview with CNBC.

“Maybe it’s just going into the dining room and asking them how their food is or if they can serve their table — just that warm interaction. We see that as more valuable.”

Chipotle is testing an autonomous kitchen assistant, Chippy, which offers a robotic solution for making chips in restaurants.

Courtesy: Chipotle

chipotlea technology leader in the restaurant sector, has also partnered with Miso Robotics and introduces Chippy, his robotic chip maker currently installed at a restaurant in Fountain Valley, California, cooking chips. Using AI, Chippy has been trained to recreate the brand’s exact chip recipe with salt and fresh lime juice. The next iteration of Chippy will also determine the amount of chips that need to be made.

The company has also implemented AI in its app to provide suggestive orders and uses camera systems in its test kitchen at the Cultivate Center to provide real-time data on the amount of product needed based on customer volume to be more predictive and less reactive.

Curt Garner, chief customer and technology officer, told CNBC that they hope AI and robotics will amplify and enhance human experiences at the company’s restaurants.

“[It’s] We help the crew members, managers and team adapt to their current environment, but we don’t take them out of the equation of serving our guests and operating the ship,” he said.

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