From drive-by transfers to in-home operations to predictive consumer orders, restaurant brands are experimenting with AI to simplify food service.
The technology has not yet reached critical mass in major chains, but it has the potential to automate more tasks and give restaurant workers the opportunity to have a more rewarding experience with guests.
The main advantage, analysts say, is the potential to mitigate workforce challenges in an ever-tighter recruitment market. The National Restaurant Association expects the industry to add 500,000 jobs by the end of 2023, but notes that there is only one job seeker for every two open positions.
Furthermore, TD Cowen estimates that voice-enabled AI can increase sales by up to 15% through suggestive selling as well as speed up service times by 10 seconds.
The shift in the industry is reminiscent of the advent of third-party delivery services five years ago, before they were ubiquitous in nearly every major restaurant operator, according to Andrew Charles, managing director of consumer and restaurant service at TD Cowen.
“Some were trying it, some we were thinking about it, and most were trying it,” he said of third-party apps for delivery services. “I think there’s a clear counterpart today where it’s very similar and as we continue to see more adoption of this, you’ll see a domino effect here.”
But hurdles to widespread adoption remain, according to Charles. Many of these large restaurant chains need to get their franchisees on board. Language barriers and menu nuances can add complexity to the ordering process that AI may not be able to navigate.
Meanwhile, the shareware wave has already begun.
Last month, Carl’s Jr. And parent company CKE and Hardee’s announced that it aims to launch AI integration nationwide through partnerships with Presto and OpenCity AI.
Yum! Trademarks In recent years, it has pioneered leveraging artificial intelligence to enhance operations, including its 2021 acquisition of Dragontail with the goal of streamlining food preparation and delivery. The technology, which automates the kitchen flow, dispatches drivers and tracks customer orders, is used at 1,000 Pizza Hut locations in the US, and nearly 3,000 others globally. The company also relies on artificial intelligence in the recommended ordering module which informs managers of the amount of products to order per week.
McDonald’sFor its part, McD sold Tech Labs to IBM in 2021, and entered into a strategic partnership to help bring AI technology to driveways. McD Tech Labs, formerly Apprente before it was acquired by McDonald’s, has used artificial intelligence to understand drive-thru commands. So far, McDonald’s has tested the technology in certain locations.
Del Taco also uses voice-activated AI for drive-thru orders, as is wing stop For orders placed over the phone.
Panera Bread has similarly invested in technology in both its internal and external operations. It works with OpenCity AI in vehicle voice ordering and with Miso Robotics to ensure coffee quality and temperature control to enhance product consistency.
For Panera, it’s about the question of “how do we redeploy our people for higher-quality, higher-value guest experiences,” said George Hanson, chief digital officer. “Whether they’re spending more time preparing food and quality control, or personal interaction,” Hanson told CNBC in an interview.
“It might be just swinging around in the dining room and asking them how their meal is or if they can move their table — just having those warm interactions. We see that as a higher value.”
Chipotle is testing its standalone kitchen assistant, Chippy, which offers an automated chip-making solution in restaurants.
Chipotlethe leading technology company in the restaurant business, has also partnered with Miso Robotics to deliver it Chippy, the automated chip maker, is currently installed and cooking chips at a restaurant location in Fountain Valley, California. Using artificial intelligence, Chippy was trained to recreate the exact trademark chip recipe with salt and fresh lemon juice. The next iteration of Chippy will determine how many chips to make as well.
The company has also applied artificial intelligence to its app for posting suggestive orders and uses the camera systems in its Cultivate Center test kitchen to provide real-time data on the amount of product ordered based on customer volume to be more predictive and less reactive.
The hope is that AI and bots will amplify and improve the human experiences at the company’s restaurants, chief customer and technology Kurt Garner told CNBC.
“[It’s] We help crew members, managers, and the team adjust to their current environment as a tool, but not take them out of the equation of serving our guests and managing the ship.”