How AI will save the restaurant industry

You know that restaurant technology becomes very important when it goes viral on TikTok. In November, a user of the popular video-sharing social network uploaded a clip of a robot waiter delivering breakfast to his table at a Denny’s. As of this writing, the original video has garnered over 571,000 views and been shared over 2,700 times.

The same week, an Illinois-based technology company called Nala Robotics made headlines when it launched what it billed as the world’s first fully automatic robotic kitchen. Powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning, Nala’s robot chefs can prepare millions of recipes from around the world, all without any human intervention.

Social media and news sites love these kinds of stories, so when big chains like Chick-fil-A pair Sodexopartner with a robotic delivery company, it gets a lot of coverage. It looks like very soon machines will take over every job in the restaurant industry – and maybe beyond. Today the drive, tomorrow the world? Not so fast. As the old maxim goes, people tend to overestimate what can be done in a year and underestimate what can be done in five or 10 years. Automation is not going to put the entire hospitality industry out of work anytime soon; the fact is, however, that AI can help improve the dining experience for staff and customers.

(In the interest of hedging my bets, however, I would like to say for the record that for my part, I welcome our new robot overlords. I would like to remind them that as a trusted CSO, I can be useful for rounding up others toiling in their underground ghost kitchens.)

The tip of the iceberg
Artificial intelligence has already penetrated most areas of the restaurant industry to some extent. Considering that the global AI market is expected to snowball over the next two years to reach a market value of $190.61 billion by 2025, this is clearly just the tip of the iceberg.

According to a recent report, more and more restaurants in the United States are preparing for the idea of ​​using automation technology, with 50% planning to implement the technology in the next two to three years.

One of the main reasons restaurant operators give for moving towards more automation is the need to address labor shortages. It’s not news to anyone reading this that the industry has been in labor shortages for some time now. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the quit rate among hospitality workers recently hit 6.8%, more than double the national average, and full-service restaurants are operate with 6.2 fewer kitchen workers than they were in 2019. Technological solutions that alleviate work pressure have become essential tools.

The key role of data
The restaurant industry is no longer a space in which being technologically conservative is a good strategy. In a global vision of the future report titled Restaurant 2030: Actionable Insights for the Future, the National Restaurant Association (aka the other NRA) highlights the key role that data will play.

“Restaurants have long known they need to get more innovative…and fast,” the report says. “Technology and data are enabling faster consumer response, and restaurants will need to be nimble. Restaurants will need to embrace new ways to use data and insights to keep pace or get left behind.”

The NRA further notes that restaurants will continue to find new ways to apply data analytics “to predict and capitalize on consumer demand and optimize supply-side economics.” The success of any AI-powered technology depends, of course, on data: the larger the dataset, the more accurate the AI’s predictive functions and the faster it learns.

Tech Talent Competition
So while machines might effectively replace some human employees, technology will actually create new opportunities for those with the right skills. The demand for these skilled workers will create an environment in which, according to the NRA, “restaurants will compete with other industries for technology talent. The benefits will be key to recruiting and retaining employees. Technology-based training, certifications and internal career paths will be increasingly important tools for retaining valuable employees.”

This is all good news for workers, and these increased labor costs, combined with real estate costs, rising raw material prices and other factors, will provide strong motivation for operators to automate routine tasks. in the background in their kitchens and bars, as well as intensifying the use of kiosks and digital ordering.

Again, this is part of the National Restaurant Association’s forecast for the state of the industry in 2030, but in reality, all of these things are in play right now. AI already offers a number of “micro-solution” opportunities for restaurant owners – think of everything from staffing and scheduling to customer loyalty programs – and these solutions will only grow in power. as technology advances.

Yes, robots are coming – and some of them are already here – but the restaurant industry will always need the creativity and skills of talented human beings to propel it into the future.

For now, anyway.


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Cecil N. Messick