From drive-thru to back-of-house operations to predictive ordering for consumers, restaurant brands are beginning to use artificial intelligence to streamline food service.
The technology has yet to reach critical mass at major chains, but it has the potential to automate more tasks and give restaurant staff the opportunity to have more meaningful experiences with guests.
Analysts say the ability to mitigate workforce challenges is a key advantage in the current tight recruitment market. The National Restaurant Association predicts that the industry will add 500,000 jobs by the end of 2023, but notes that there is currently only one job seeker for every two open positions.
What’s more, TD Cowen estimates that voice-enabled AI can increase sales by up to 15% by speeding up service time by up to 10 seconds, along with suggestive selling.
According to Andrew Charles, managing director of consumer and restaurants at TD Cowen, the industry shift is reminiscent of the emergence of third-party delivery services five years ago, before which it was ubiquitous across nearly every major restaurant operator.
“Some were trying it out, others we were considering, most were piloting it,” he said of third-party apps for delivery services. “I think there’s a clear analog to today where it’s very similar and as we continue to adopt it further, you’ll see a domino effect here.”
But there are still hurdles to widespread adoption, according to Charles. Many of these large restaurant chains have a need to get franchisees on board. Language barriers and menu specifics can add complexity to the ordering process that AI may not be able to navigate.
Meanwhile, a wave of pilot programs has already begun.
Yum! Brands been in recent years A leader in leveraging AI To scale up operations including the acquisition of Dragontail in 2021 with the aim of streamlining food preparation and delivery. The technology, which automates kitchen flow, driver dispatch and customer order tracking, is used in over 1,000 Pizza Hut locations in the US, and nearly 3,000 more globally. The company also relies on AI for its recommended ordering module that informs managers how much product to order weekly.
McDonald’sApple, for its part, sold McD Tech Labs to IBM in 2021, entering into a strategic partnership to help bring AI technology to the drive-thru lane. McD Tech Labs, formerly known as Apprente before its acquisition by McDonald’s, used AI to understand drive-thru orders. So far, McDonald’s has tested the technology at a few locations.
Del Taco is also using voice-activated AI for orders at its drive-thru wingstop For orders placed by phone.
Panera Bread has similarly invested in technology in both front- and back-of-house operations. This drive-thru is working with voice ordering and OpenCity AI Miso Robotics to ensure coffee quality and temperature control to promote product consistency.
For Panera, it’s a question of, “How do we redistribute our people to high-value, high-quality guest experiences,” said George Hanson, chief digital officer. “Whether they’re spending more time preparing food and quality control, or in-person interactions,” Hanson told CNBC in an interview.
“It could be just swinging by in the dining room and asking them how their meal is or if they can just have their table — just having those warm conversations. We see that as high value. “
Chipotle is testing Chippy, an autonomous kitchen assistant that offers a robotic solution to making chips at restaurants.
chipotleA technology leader in the restaurant sector, has also partnered with Miso Robotics, which is offering Chippy, its robotic chipmaker, Jo is currently setting up and cooking chips in a restaurant location in Fountain Valley, California. Using AI, Chippy has been trained to recreate the brand’s exact chip recipe with added salt and fresh lime juice. The next iteration of Chippy will also determine the quantity of chips that need to be made.
The company has also implemented AI for suggestive ordering on its app and uses camera systems in its Cultivate Center test kitchen to provide real-time data on the amount of product required based on customer quantities and more Be predictable and less reactive.
Chief Customer and Technology Officer Kurt Garner told CNBC that AI and robotics are expected to enhance and improve human experiences at the company’s restaurants.
,[It’s] Helping crew members, managers, team adapt to their current environment as a tool, but not taking them out of the equation to serve our guests and run the ship,” he said.