We previously discussed social distancing and contact-free technology that offered safety solutions during the pandemic. But there’s much more that tech has to offer, especially when it comes to AI being integrated into guest order systems, training, and restaurant operations. Here are some standout tech innovations that forward-thinking business owners are investing in today in restaurant technology:
Voice-based tech is fast growing and increasingly evolving the guest ordering experience. Prominent restaurants of the QSR space are integrating voice-ordering into their apps. For example, Denny’s customers can order through Amazon Echo (Alexa) (1); Dunkin’ and Domino’s Pizza have also deployed bot and voice-enabled ordering by Alexa, Siri or Google Home, and Chipotle Mexican Grill rolled out voice AI to power their mobile orders in 1,800 of their locations (2). Just last year, McDonald’s announced its plans to bring AI voice technology to its drive-thrus after they acquired the voice-recognition startup Apprente (3). These drive-thrus would allow customers to place their orders like any voice-assistant-enabled order taker, except that these systems would use machine-learning techniques to learn and continually improve based on actual orders and spoken language (4). According to Rob Carpenter, founder and CEO of Valyant AI, a Colorado-based artificial intelligence company focused on QSR customer service, “AI ultimately provides an intelligent, convenient and informed customer service experience by way of improved order speed and accuracy” (5). “Drive-thru chains are inaccurate more than 10 percent of the time, and the average speed-of-service times have slowed down significantly in the face of such high employee turnover.” Meanwhile, digital employees work to improve order accuracy and decrease wait times (5).
Self-order kiosks can now use a camera to recognize regular customers and make suggestions based on a customer’s previous order history. “Once you opt into facial recognition, you can reorder and pay for your favorite dish in less than 10 seconds,” said Christopher Sebes, President of Xenial, Inc., producer of such self-order kiosks (6). These facial recognition systems are gaining popularity, and already in use at places like modern Asian street food restaurant Wow Bao, as well as the fast-growing high-end burger chain, BurgerFi. “Self-serve kiosks and tablets are gaining favor as a way to speed up service without sacrificing the human touch,” said Sebes. It also “encourages higher check averages and results in healthier sales. Guests seem to appreciate the ability to spend time studying photos, ingredients, and nutritional information, as well as easily request more food or drinks as the meal progresses” (6).
Consistent Training and Optimal Scheduling
When it comes to running a successful business, operators understand how training plays a crucial role. But just as with people, training must evolve and continually be improved upon. According to Steven Yee, COO for EDUonGo, the creator of Kiwi LMS focus on restaurant employee training, an optimal training regimen requires quality data collection (7). “It is difficult to know what changes need to be made in the existing training,” said Yee. “With AI, however, restaurants are positioned to collect relevant data, thereby improving their customer service, creating a better training experience for employees, and fostering a safe workplace culture” (7). AI can now collect a wide variety of information ranging from the length of time an employee stays in the portal, how often they log on to review materials, the success rate of their quizzes, and the completion rate of certifications (7). One restaurant that has adopted AI-based employee training is Modern Market Eatery, a farm-to-table restaurant based in Denver (8). By embracing mobile training platforms, such as PlayerLync, and implementing training within the real-life workspace, the restaurant has access to a variety of integrated technology systems that notify staff of menu or recipe changes as they occur, contributing to employee success and efficiency.
Scheduling staff times is also made easier with AI. For example, AI can now predict labor demand, handle on-call shifts, and allow employees to swap shifts with minimal manager intervention (6). According to Sebes, it even “determines which of your staff tends to do the most up-selling, and give those team members priority for high-volume shifts.”
Up to Date Inventory
POS systems that manage inventory and purchasing capabilities are already well established by now, but we expect AI to optimize these capabilities with the use of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags which use electromagnetic fields to identify and store information about the object the tag is affixed to. According to Nely Broad, author and regular contributor of a tech news company BitRebels.com, RFID will allow operators to collect and trace vital pieces of information such as type, quantity, and origin of a product through its life-cycle (9). For example, when an RFID tag is placed in specified containers for a particular product, anyone would be able to scan an RFID reader and learn about the product’s history. The RFID tag would allow for easy inventory management, as scanning RFID tags would send a message to your inventory management software letting you know that the item is in stock (9).
RFID tags can also help ensure the safety and quality of your products. Food industry workers can monitor the temperature of foods—for instance, on milk containers that would contain an expiration date, the temperature, and other pertinent information (9, 10). When suppliers track the temperature of the milk through the information collected from the tags, the milk’s temperature can be tracked from the source, during shipment, and when it is delivered to the store.
The potential for AI to enhance all aspects of food ordering, restaurant operations and staff management is practically endless. We’ve seen how AI saves time and money, increases productivity and efficiency while reducing human error and labor costs. As more businesses embrace AI, begin to change the customer experience and their expectations of what foodservice can be, we’ll surely see these new restaurant techs take over the industry.