How AI will save the restaurant industry

You know restaurant technology gets really big when it goes viral on TikTok. In November, a user of the popular video-sharing social network uploaded an excerpt from a robot waiter delivering breakfast to his table in a Denny’s. As of this writing, the original video has garnered over 571,000 views and has been shared over 2,700 times.

That same week, an Illinois-based tech company called Nala Robotics made headlines by launching what it touted 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 around the world, all without human intervention.

Social media and news sites love these kinds of stories, so when big chains like Chick-fil-A team up Sodexopartner of a robotic delivery company, it enjoys wide coverage. It looks like machines will soon fill every job in the restaurant industry – and possibly beyond. Today the drive, tomorrow the world? Not so fast. As the old saying goes, people tend to overestimate what can be done in one 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 for the foreseeable future; the point is, however, that AI can contribute to a better dining experience for staff and customers.

(However, in the interest of hedging my bets, I would like to say for the record that for my part, I welcome our new Robot Lords. I would like to remind them that as a trusted CSO I can be of help. to gather more. to work in their underground ghost kitchens.)

Tip of the iceberg
Artificial intelligence has already penetrated most areas of the restaurant business 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 only the peak of the iceberg.

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

One of the main reasons restaurateurs cite for moving towards more automation is the need to fill labor shortages. It’s not news to anyone reading this that the industry has been in a labor shortage for some time now. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the quit rate among hospitality workers recently reached 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 ease the pressure of the workforce 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. From a global perspective Restaurant 2030 report: Actionable Insights for the Future, the National Restaurant Association (aka the other NRA) highlights the key role data will play.

“Restaurants have known for a long time that they need to become more innovative… and faster,” 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 of using data and information to keep pace or get left behind. “

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

Technological talent competition
So while machines might actually replace some human workers, 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 technological talent. The benefits will be critical in recruiting and retaining employees. increasingly important tools to retain valuable employees. “

This is all good news for workers, and these increased labor costs, combined with real estate costs, rising commodity prices and other factors, will give operators a strong motivation. to automate routine back-of-house tasks in their kitchens and bars, as well as to step up the use of kiosks and digital controls.

Again, these are among 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 restaurateurs – think of everything from staffing and planning to customer loyalty programs – and these solutions will only become more powerful. 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 humans to propel themselves into the future.

For now anyway.


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Cecil N. Messick