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Leading Restaurant Brands Continue to Benefit from Cutting-edge AI and Automation
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Modern technologies continue to enable modern experiences and improve profits for enterprise restaurant chains.

Automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are being implemented across a range of use cases. Case in point: Starbucks plans to have its core AI initiative, Deep Brew, affect a number of areas and touchpoints across its business, applying it to inventory, staff scheduling, customer experience (specifically, making experiences more personal) and even remote monitoring of espresso machines through AI and the application of Internet of Things (IoT). 

This is one testament to the broad range of applications that such technology initiatives - and AI in particular - can have.

Trends in AI

Awhile back, we shared our take on how AI and other emerging technologies are helping enterprise brands continually reinvent themselves. Widespread adoption of these technologies continues, with all kinds of restaurants applying AI, machine learning, and Internet of Things to broad areas of their business.

Looking at just AI, for example, a Gartner survey showed that 37 percent of organizations have deployed AI in some form. In its press release, Gartner said, “CIOs have realized that sustainable digital transformation and task automation go hand in hand. AI has become an integral part of every digital strategy and is already used in a variety of applications.”

In an IBM survey conducted in late 2019 titled From Roadblock to Scale: The Global Sprint Towards AI 55% of respondents stated that business needs are driving AI adoption, while competitive pressure came in at a close second (38% of respondents). This was based on a study of more than 4,500 technology decision makers.

These stats excite us for a number of reasons. But mainly it’s because at Xenial:

  • We’re technologists at heart and restaurateurs in our soul. Walk the halls or listen in on a team call and you’ll hear discussions about applying technology to modernize and solve challenges for Wendy’s, Burger King, Popeye’s, Hardee’s, Dutch Bros., Taco Bell, Denny’s, and any number of other household name brands.

  • Our R&D team is busy working on real solutions that help enterprise restaurants and their guests benefit from automation, AI, machine learning, machine vision, and Internet of Things technologies.

Although it’s far from comprehensive, here are a few of the ways we’re seeing these emerging technologies at work across our industry.

Operations and Equipment Monitoring

A shot of AI in your morning coffee? You bet. Part of Starbucks’ AI initiative called Deep Brew involves the using AI capabilities and Internet of Things technology to monitor and fine-tune the chain's espresso machines. The machines will be monitored remotely in a Starbucks support center. 900 of the AI-enabled machines were installed last year and 4,000 more are slated for installation this year. This at-scale equipment monitoring initiative helps the company deliver a consistent coffee experience. Restaurant brands have already done similar things with vital equipment such as freezers and food warming units. Doing it on such a large scale enables Starbucks to reap economies of scale.

Food Safety, Detecting Foodborne Illness

News of foodborne illness spreads on social media as fast as the ailment spreads in the human body. It can be a PR nightmare, not to mention unsafe for guests and their overall health and well-being.

Chick-fil-A has tested technology that surveys social media posts looking for signs of foodborne illness, and ultimately, food safety issues in its restaurants. It’s based on an AI framework that Chick-Fil-A developed. It has shown to be 78 percent reliable in identifying keywords, phrases, and customer sentiment from social media posts that indicate emerging foodborne illness. Chain and store managers get push notifications to their Chick-fil-A mobile app. They can then use the information the application provides to help them pinpoint and resolve the issue at the source. 

Automating Aspects of Back Office/Store Management

When you can incorporate automation in tasks that restaurant managers do repeatedly such as crew scheduling and managing shift requests and shift changes, you free them up to do more valuable and frankly more fulfilling things. Scheduling is getting more complicated as governments institute predictive scheduling mandates for hourly employees. Restaurants benefit from technology that can forecast labor demand, handle on-call shifts, and allow employees to swap shifts with little intervention from the manager. 

The same can be said about the time-intensive, repetitious nature of inventory and purchasing. Automating these tasks using an AI-powered integrated restaurant management solution makes managers more efficient, eliminates guesswork, avoids waste, tames food costs and food cost variance, ensures the right supply levels, and removes one more arduous item from the to-do list.

Starbucks’ AI tool is helping the coffee chain with both scheduling and inventory. The company uses it to evaluate on-hand inventory in the store. It also helps calculate the staffing levels needed per shift, presumably based on historical sales trends. Taking this task off the manager’s plate should free them up to spend more time with partners (Starbucks’ term for crew members) and customers. 

Ordering

With the drive to reduce friction and streamline service wherever possible, restaurants are looking to automation, and specifically artificial intelligence. With technology in the market today, an AI-powered voice assistant ‘bot’ could voice-enable any number of ordering channels, including self-order kiosk, drive-thru, or phone-in orders. And that’s in addition to ordering via in-home voice assistants like Alexa.

Domino’s was an early player in AI-powered ordering all the way back in 2014, with an AI-enabled chatbot named Dom. The chain states that Dom has been responsible for taking more than half a million orders, and that number continues to grow. As if you needed more proof of the adoption of automation, AI and other emerging technologies among restaurants, today, people order their pizza using their voice assistant speaker such as the Amazon Alexa and Google Home or by tweeting a pizza emoji. 

Will Talk for Food

McDonald’s caught major attention when it acquired two technology companies, one of them, Aprente, is a leader in voice assistant-enabled ordering experiences. 

Other popular, recognizable brands including Chipotle are also using voice automation as part of their customer experience strategies. The 2,400-location Mexican food chain was the first restaurant outside pizza to offer a fully automated digital ordering experience for guests across online, mobile app and phone call.

All of the chain’s 2,400 or so restaurant locations rely on these automated digital ordering channels. So if you call in your Chipotle order, you’ll talk with the AI-powered order-taking bot. Want to re-order in a hurry? If you’ve opted in, you’ll be greeted by name, and you’ll be offered the opportunity to re-order what you ordered last time. Your order can be processed in a matter of seconds.

Starbucks may soon jump in with its own application of voice ordering. With customer experience and ‘the human touch’ in mind, the chain hinted that it may use voice assistant technology and a microphone to ‘listen’ to customer orders, translate the spoken order to text, and insert it into the POS. This would help the barista or order taker maintain eye contact with the customer.

Using AI and Analytics to Personalize Experiences

A recent study by PSFK indicated that 79% of diners are interested in personalized menu recommendations. 

Taco Bell has been a leader in offering customers digital experiences, from its mobile app to in-store kiosks and elsewhere. The company recently announced an initiative to personalize menu recommendations, promotions and content based on their customer profiles. These recommendations can be personalized based on past orders for customers that use the Taco Bell mobile app.

Final Thoughts

Through automation, restaurants and coffee purveyors can free an employee from filling just one role — drive-thru window for example — to move around the restaurant and complete other tasks. With so many positions going unfilled, this kind of flexibility is bound to reap rewards for both customers and the businesses who serve them.

And restaurants that deploy fresh and/or wildly convenient experiences by implementing some or all of these emerging technologies meet consumer expectations that many of us carry over from similar experiences in retail. Not only that, but these technologies introduce efficiencies and therefore cost and labor savings, and that leads to better profits: a dish that tastes good to any restaurateur.

Ready to Bring Modern Experiences to Your Brand?

That’s what we’re all about. Contact us today to share your vision. We’d love to see how we can help.

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