4 Ways Artificial Intelligence Is Helping Successful Restaurants Scale Faster in 2021
We’re well into the era of restaurant automation with order aggregators, kitchen robotics, and contactless delivery. But the next phase of restaurant technology is at our doorstep—and it’s going to change how customers and restaurants interact all over again: Restaurant Artificial Intelligence.
Machine learning and AI are already making their way into restaurant chains around the world. Early adopters are paving the way for the rest of us (and reaping the rewards early!).
We looked at emerging Restaurant AI trends to discover ways forward-thinking operators can leverage artificial intelligence in their operations.
In the process, we discovered things like…
- Why text ordering is finally taking off (there was a missing ingredient)
- How AI-enabled voice commerce is transforming smart assistants and drive-thrus
- New-tech R&D strategies that reduce development time and increase margins
Scaling a restaurant brand is often a multi-decade affair. With artificial intelligence, we believe ambitious restaurant chains will be able to scale at record speeds.
Ready to see how?
Firstly, AI vs Automation: There’s a Key Difference
Automation has been here for a while. It’s when a customer places an order online and that order is automatically sent to the kitchen display system.
Automation accomplishes routine tasks over and over again. It’s fast, hands-off, and immediate. Anytime technology enables you to skip steps automatically, you’re leveraging automation to create a streamlined operation.
Artificial intelligence is different.
AI uses machine learning algorithms to look at data, then make one-time decisions that are appropriate for that unique moment. The difference is in routine vs non-repetitive tasks—and it’s a huge difference.
For example, automation can pull up a generic upsell offer when customers check out using your online ordering platform. Artificial intelligence can review that customer’s last twenty orders, identify the trends in what kinds of flavors they favor, then offer a personalized upsell for relevant items—items it might not suggest to any other customer.
Simply put, artificial intelligence in the restaurant industry is a whole new ballgame. And it’s already creating a new tier of multi-unit businesses that are scaling faster than ever.
Here’s how it’s playing out in 2021.
1. AI Was the Missing Ingredient for Text Ordering
Ordering by text has traditionally been a half-feature. It existed on some platforms, but the functionality was severely limited and a frequent point of frustration for both customers and restaurants.
Even Domino’s Pizza, an early pioneer of the technology, could only manage to create a smooth experience by restricting customers to ordering their “Easy Order” via text message. No customizing pizza, picking different menu items, or using a different payment method allowed—a very limited experience.
With artificial intelligence, the text ordering experience is completely different. Rather than keeping customers limited to just one or two ordering functions, machine learning-enabled text ordering gives customers the full menu experience.
There are three important ways this next-gen text-to-order system helps restaurants scale:
- It’s more convenient than third-party delivery apps. If your digital ordering platform integrates with delivery platforms, you can still leverage their drivers (or use your own) while keeping more delivery dollars.
- There are fewer barriers to personalization and repeat orders. Rather than having to navigate to a website or app and log in, customers can simply text a saved restaurant number and the restaurant will automatically pair that with previous order history and preferences.
- It’ll finally turn long-time callers into less-burdensome texters. Many customers still call in orders, but the process is time-consuming, and the order error rate of mishearing customers can harm your brand image. Those app-averse guests are likely to transition to text ordering, since it uses the same essential process and tool to get the order placed.
In the race to create the smoothest, most seamless guest experience, this new age of text ordering AI is already transforming the restaurant industry.
2. Voice Ordering is Getting Smarter in the Drive-Thru and Beyond
The innovators at McDonalds have been running experiments with AI-powered drive-thru ordering kiosks since 2019 when they acquired not one, but two artificial intelligence startups.
From the customer’s perspective, it’s the same drive-up experience they’re familiar with. They drive up, roll down their window, check out the menu, and say what they’d like to order. For McDonalds, it erases the need for a team member to actively man the driveway. The person asking “would you like fries with that?” is an artificial intelligence—not an employee.
Taco Bell, KFC, Domino’s, and Wingstop are rolling out similar AI-powered voice tools across locations nationwide.
In a similar vein, many restaurants are beginning to accept voice ordering via smart assistants, like Siri and Alexa. Rather than static chatbot scripts, these bots behave much like McDonald’s drive-thru tech or TextAI—customers get a dynamic and personalized ordering experience.
In the same way that digital ordering platforms enabled restaurant chains to scale at unprecedented rates, automating voice commerce and drive-thrus will give growing brands the rocket fuel they need to scale faster.
These smarter voice commerce systems were held back by frustratingly limited tech and poor listening abilities. Thanks to more advanced Natural Language Processing (NLP), they’re finally viable on a wider scale.
3. AI-Powered Recipe Development Creates Opportunities to Stand Out
Chefs and R&D departments are always looking for their next hit recipe, and thanks to new mass spectrometry technology, they’ve got a whole new way to find innovative ideas that work—and the process is much faster.
FoodPairing is a Belgian startup that analyzes the chemical makeup of all types of foods, then uses machine learning algorithms to identify scientifically-proven flavor matches. Many of these pairings are unusual or unintuitive… but they work.
For example, pairing raspberry with basil is a time-honored classic. But did you know you can also pair raspberries with tomatoes? Turns out there’s a chemical justification.
Chefs and R&D departments around the world are using FoodPairing’s technology to scale faster by…
- Building a brand as an innovator with seasonally refreshed menus Increasing menu prices for these exclusive AI-enhanced menu items
- Reducing food costs by replacing expensive ingredients with suitable alternatives
Also Read: Restaurant Menu Ideas That Maximize Your Profit Margin
4. Smart Robots Can Cook and Serve Food Now
Automated cooking devices move over. AI-powered robo-chefs are taking kitchen robotics to a whole new level.
Our friends at Miso Robotics are pioneering self-learning and adapting cooking robots that can make adjustments to food on the fly, in real-time. Flippy can cook french fries and burger patties automatically without a set pre-programmed recipe—it uses machine learning to analyze how ingredients cook in real-time, then makes adjustments to times and temperatures as they cook.
The software behind Flippy, CookRight, can be installed over any stove or grill to monitor ingredients as they cook. For example, CookRight can notify a line cook when a specific burger patty is about to overcook.
White Castle is Miso Robotics’s most notable restaurant partner.
The Best Way to Get Started with Restaurant AI
Leveraging artificial intelligence is a long-term goal, often taking years to materialize since it requires big data to be collected and organized for an AI to start performing.
The lowest-friction way to start seeing results from artificial intelligence in your multi-unit restaurant is to use TextAI.
TextAI takes data you already have—customer loyalty profiles and ordering trends—and turns it into a new ordering experience that’s personalized, seamless, and convenient.
You don’t have to hire a big data analyst or a machine learning consulting firm. You don’t have to build a team of engineers to set up a complicated database.
With HungerRush, TextAI is built on your existing system and operation, so you can create next-gen ordering experiences that help you scale faster.
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