- by Alex Alper |
- May 28, 2020
- Restaurant Technology | 18 min read
AI: The Future of Food Service Technology
Artificial Intelligence isn’t just for the tech industry anymore. Groundbreaking AI technology has becoming more widely used across many different business sectors, and the food service industry is capitalizing on machines just as much as anyone else. With the most advanced, up-to-date restaurant AI, your business can implement customer-facing technology, integrate voice ordering, manage and track delivery orders and free up your staff focus on cultivating the best possible customer experience that they can.
AI, along with other advanced restaurant technology, is shaping the future of the food service industry and completely adapting how employees interact with customers.
Restaurants who utilize customer-facing technology already know the advantages of letting their customers directly interact with, experience or simply view your display screens during ordering and payment. By powering this technology with AI, you’ll further enhance every customers’ experience.
Self-service plays an enormous role here. For example they’re experimenting with facial recognition software which would enable a kiosk to discern and remember repeat customers. Accessing this information would allow the machines to recall past orders and then prompt that customer to reorder a frequent favorite or suggest new meals based on past preferences, trends and popular menu times at the time. This strongly personalizes the experience and helps provide the best satisfaction possible, predicting exactly what customers want without them having to input the information at all. Customers can choose to opt into or out of this experience so they don’t have to fear privacy violations. Additionally these machines wouldn’t save their images or connect their face with personal or credit card information. Some restaurants, like BurgerFi and Wow Bao, are already experimenting with AI-powered, customer-facing technology.
Self-service has a variety of additional benefits aside from facial recognition software; it greatly speeds up service, which reduces wait time, improves customer satisfaction and frees your employees to complete other tasks while still remaining available to answer customer questions and troubleshoot the self-service machines. It’s especially useful for restaurants working at high volumes or with busy peak times, such as quick-service and fast-casual establishments. They have benefits such as:
- Spending more time with the menu so they can browse at their leisure without worrying about holding up the lines.
- Order without judgment. People often feel self-conscious about modifying their order, adding sides or upgrading their meal in front of cashiers or other customers. By handling the entire process themselves, customers can fill their orders exactly like they want without worrying that someone is going to judge their portion sizes.
- Increase check sizes. Removing that fear of judgment means that on average, your customers will spend more money per order. This also leads to stronger customer loyalty because it encourages them to return for the same great experience.
- Speed up your total service time. Reports show that implementing self-service technology actually reduces overall wait time for customers and makes the entire ordering process go faster.
- View nutrition information. Anyone watching their diet or mindful of food allergies needs to know exactly what they’re putting into their bodies. Restaurants can upload nutrition information to their self-service devices so that customers can easily view these details. They don’t have to ask employees questions about certain dishes or wait for a special booklet that has this information, especially since those pages have likely been handled by countless other customers and aren’t always sanitized between uses.
- Better customer satisfaction. When customers can more easily request drink refills or more food, when they can modify their order to fit their exact specifications, and when customer-facing technology leads to greater order accuracy, customers leave your restaurant feeling more satisfied and better taken care of than at your competitors.
- Making your employees’ jobs easier. People naturally prefer variety. By giving customers the ability to handle a major aspect of your business by themselves, your workers don’t have to repeat the same task over and over for their entire shift, like swiping cards and pressing buttons to process orders or answering the same questions from everyone in line. Instead they’ll have the time to focus on creating a great customer experience, exercising their people skills and getting to know each customer individually. This gives them the ability to give every single guest a stellar experience.
Advanced AI technology isn’t vying for the same job as your employees, rather, they work together to create a compassionate and efficient company ecosystem. Your workers will also help customers with these devices when they have questions about operating them, so be sure to train your staff on these machines so they’re equipped to handle any concerns that arises.
Voice ordering technology is extremely useful because it lets consumers order from their favorite restaurants via voice-integrated technology that they already own. For example, Google and Alexa can both complete online orders from the comfort of your living room, without even having to get up and use a computeras long as your payment method and information is adequately up to date.
Take this same technology out of the home and into your stores. For example some restaurants hope to integrate AI with self-ordering stations like their kiosks, which would drastically change the restaurant experience as a whole. If customers don’t have to interact physically with the same touchscreen as others, they’ll reduce the risk of spreading germs and the kiosks will require much less sanitization maintenance from staff members. Customers can also order faster using voice technology than they can by scrolling manually through the options. This technology could also integrate into your Point of Sale device, mobile apps and webpage to sync the information you get form voice orders throughout your entire system. You also won’t need to hire extra manpower to take orders and field phone calls.
Still, it will be awhile before customers can place orders entirely through phone-enabled AI. It will eventually prompt responses, upsell and suggest modifications to boost your average check size, but first they need to “learn” different voices and complex customer interact so they can analyze ordering trends and prompt the correct responses that will boost your restaurant’s bottom line. Places like Wingstop and Dominos are already experimenting with this kind of technology and it’s especially useful when paired with AI on your website. If you have a customer service AI, it can field questions, prompt responses, redirect to your FAQ or connect with a real person as the first line of communication.
Similarly, restaurants hope to integrate AI into their drive-throughs as well. That sort of technology would allow your staff to start cooking more quickly, speed up the line and get orders out faster overall. Integrating AI into your drive-through also lets employees focus on face-to-face customer experiences inside the store. Some major quick-service restaurants like McDonald’s and KFC are already interested in advancements like this which improve customer experiences as well as their overall satisfaction.
Even delivery, a very simple-seeming task that on its surface has no room for technological improvement, can greatly benefit from AI integration. By analyzing the prep and cook time of each other, couriers can better manage their routes and accepted deliveries. Additionally AI can analyze potential routes to optimize speed, efficiency and food quality so that customers experience their meals as they were meant to be enjoyed, just as fresh and delicious as if they ordered it in-house. It also saves your restaurant money on mileage and time by giving drivers the most direct, traffic-free route to their destination.
Customers can even track the progress of their order from start to finish. This fosters a better relationship with the store and encourages customer loyalty. They can see when the order is being prepped, when it goes into the oven and even where exactly it is during transit. Customers prefer knowing exactly where their meal is so they can plan around delivery and see the progress of their order. This also helps maintain accountability for the restaurant and nurtures trust between your business and its customers.
AI doesn’t just improve the efficiency, speed and accuracy of your employees’ work. It can also help manage their schedule and track aspects of your business that workers would otherwise spend time handling themselves.
The most advanced POS systems have the ability to:
- Create and manage employee schedules, and even let staff members swap shifts with each other without going through their managers first.
- Track inventory by analyzing orders, sales, your menu and recipes. This gives you real-time information about your supply to prevent theft, ensure correct and equal portion sizes for all customers, and helps with inventory tracking. All of this reduces waste and frees up some of your employees’ time so they can work on other tasks.
- Predict trends involving the busyness of your store, the sale of menu items and much more so employees know which items to upsell and prioritize at any given time. This is especially helpful for busy shifts because workers don’t have to individually determine where to expend their focus; the technology does it for them. This analysis also helps maximize sales and improve daily profits.
- Gain insight on data such as your highest traffic times, sales in relation to weather and local events, and more to predict how much of your inventory you need to order and how many employees you should staff on any given day. AI bases this information on the weather, other local businesses near you, and the cost of ingredients against the prices of your competitors. All of this helps you decide what discounts, specials and more you should promote on a given day.
- Track social media trends to see what’s relevant and trending regarding food service, popular dishes, experiences and more. Keep up to date on the most recent food safety information and track consumer interest trends all via AI.
- Use all of these analytics and the information that your AI gathers to automatically update your digital menu board if you have one connected to your POS system. Using the time of day, weather, events nearby, and the trends and busyness of your store at that time, AI will update your menu board to promote certain dishes and specials that best appeal to your customers’ interests.
AI works with your employees to create an amazing customer experience by analyzing past data to generate future expectations, which your staff can reference in real time. Get your customers what they want before they even know that they want it.
AI and the Future
Technology is advancing, and as it does, artificial intelligence will become a more popular method for supplementing business operations and improving the customer experience as well as your bottom line. The two aren’t mutually exclusive but rather work together, just like AI technology does with your employees. Advancements like this aren’t stealing jobs but rather helping complete tasks easier and more efficiently, redirecting your staff’s focus to other aspects of the business that need attention or a personal, human touch. Customer satisfaction and experience are two deeply important aspects of any successful restaurant, and neither of these can be taken over by machines. However machines can work to understand the complexities of consumer trends and other analytics so that your staff directs their efforts in the most impactful way. Together AI and your human employees will maximize profits and make your business the best it can possibly be.
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