Restaurant AI Technology is having a moment, but what does it really mean for the restaurant industry? Here’s what we think.
If you’re like me, when you hear the words AI and restaurant industry in the same sentence, you automatically think of anatomical robots making drinks, running food, and working the line—overnight, taking jobs that required years of experience for us to perform at the highest level.
We can blame Hollywood for this knee-jerk reaction to artificial intelligence trying to take over the world.
I can assure you AI is not here to take our jobs, only to make them easier, so we can do what we do best—create a memorable dining experience for our guests.
Let’s get the whole robot thing out of the way.
Putting robots in restaurants would require an insane amount of money, and as most of us work for independent restaurants with pencil-thin profit margins, the likelihood of this happening is slim to none.
That’s not to say it won’t happen.
Huge chains like McDonald’s and Domino’s are already working to incorporate AI robots, and there will be the occasional local spot with droid servers, but they will be few and far between.
Another thing to consider is that if AI robots operated in all restaurants, every restaurant would become either fast-casual or fast-food locations. The whole point of robots is speed and efficiency, and for most people who go out to eat, that’s not the point at all.
We go out to eat for the experience, to blow off steam, and to find an escape from the everyday. To pull this off, restaurants need what anatomical AI can’t give—which is the human element.
Human beings are what make eating out interesting, and that doesn’t mean customers only. We need staff to create the vibe of a business—we need a face and a personality to connect.
The Role Of AI In Restaurants Today
Since we won’t need to battle robots for our jobs, what role will AI take in your average restaurant?
AI is a tool.
It’ll come in the form of computer programs and will make our working lives easier.
Like when servers stopped writing tickets by hand but could instead put orders straight into a POS system that sent the order directly to the kitchen—AI is the next step in restaurant evolution, and the technology will help streamline day-to-day tasks.
For example, AI can answer phone calls.
I would rather have a host focusing on the customer in front of them as opposed to picking up the phone to answer a question that can easily be found online.
That phone call is still important, though, and not everyone goes online for answers.
A survey found that 83% of customers will look for a different restaurant if they call and get a voicemail twice.
With AI, you’ll be able to answer the phone, take reservations, put guests on the waitlist, take messages, and answer FAQs, all while keeping your host available for customers in the building.
AI can help both front and back of house.
With FOH, besides answering the phone, it can assist with taking voice orders, helping customers with self-service, and even be used in kiosks that recognize regulars.
Besides helping with the phones, most of these features only cater to quick-service restaurants, but the BOH and management benefits can help any restaurant model.
AI can assist with scheduling, inventory, marketing, delivery, purchasing, and even use customer data to predict trends and patterns.
For example, when making the schedule, you can use AI to predict how much staff you’ll need to cover the coming weeks. It can look at patterns in your business and help you select the specific number of people you’ll need during the busiest hours.
This is also beneficial to employees too since they won’t feel overworked if you’re short-handed or disappointed when it’s slow and there are too many people on the floor.
The Future Of AI In Hospitality
The main point here is that AI is no threat to those of us who work in the restaurant and hospitality industry.
It’s important to be aware of it and, certainly, keep an eye on breakthroughs and advances. However, the possibility that AI will be taking our jobs soon isn’t very realistic.
Restaurants need real people working them to be successful. Customers develop relationships with staff, and it’s what turns them into regulars. I’ve seen customers meet workers who turned into their best friends, spouses, and people who are like family to them, and that can never be duplicated.
AI as it is today, though, should be embraced by every restauranteur looking to stay ahead of the curve.
Just as computer POS systems became the standard for all modern restaurants, AI will prove its benefits too valuable to pass up and will be adopted by all hospitality businesses in the coming years to help them operate far into the future.