When most people think of AI in a café setting, they might picture kitchens staffed with robots- capable of cooking so well, that eventually, they will replace all human staff. This is largely an exaggeration. While not entirely science-fiction, (there are cafes where robots do perform minimum food preparation), it isn’t the most common way that AI is changing the eatery landscape. You might be surprised to learn about the number of applications AI can have to streamline operations and ameliorate their guests.
AI has become a bit of a buzzword, but this technology isn’t out of reach for the typical restauranteur. Even less than tech-smart restaurant owners can apply AI to improve their business. Read on to find out more about how cafes can use AI in small ways to create big changes.
What is AI?
According to pop culture, we’re going to ultimately be outwitted by kitchen robots and, one day, find us serving them- rather than the other way around. This is simply not accurate. AI is so much more than robot kitchens.
AI simply refers to Intelligence that doesn’t come naturally- i.e. intelligence created by human beings that allows a computer to mimic said intelligence. AI can take information from many sources and reply/react to it, but it cannot store this information and use it to grow in complexity over time. Siri and Alexa are good examples of AI – they can answer queries from users, but they don’t truly gain understanding of those users over time, nor do they learn their wants and needs.
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This brings us to a different feature that regularly comes up in relation to AI in a café.
Machine literacy allows computers to not only absorb information, but also to use complex algorithms to make prognostications about events, or people, based on observed patterns. This is employed by platforms like Netflix and Spotify that grow to understand your likes and interests in television and music over time, and provides you with new content that you might enjoy.
So now we have to ask:
Is AI in a Café Setting Really Necessary?
As technology of all types becomes an integral part of running an eating establishment, AI is arising as a type of eatery technology with nearly limitless potential.
In answer- yes. There are many advantages to using AI in an independent eatery. Illustrated in this essay are a few possible ways that it can be utilized to improve your dining establishment.
AI technology is capable of automating many straightforward and rote tasks (such as taking reservations, or entering orders into the POS). This reduces the need for staff, and will lower costs overall
Human error accounts for some failures while running an eatery. To illustrate, during a busy dinner rush, a waiter might mishear a guest’s order, and enter the wrong dish. If a guest orders via AI, there’s less room for this human error.
AI gives further control to guests during the ordering process. This enables them to customize their orders (and their overall experience) to suit their needs, without their having to rely on the memory of a server taking their order, and his relaying the customization to the kitchen.
Improve Guest Service
Embracing AI’s capability to perform simple tasks will free up workers to do what they are best yet (and what AI is not able to do, yet.) Staff will be able to provide special consideration to guests, and provide them with the best possible experience. For all that AI is capable of, it can’t mimic the human touch- the element that can make a dining experience special.
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Find New Patrons
AI technology can supercharge your eatery’s marketing efforts, allowing you to reach out to more guests that might love your food. AI can also help with guest retention- encouraging patrons to visit again after they finish their meal.
AI is Becoming More Common
In recent times, eatery technology has been changing fast. AI is one area where technology has created opportunities in restaurants and cafes that look like they came straight out of a sci-fi novel. For instance, take Flippy, the burger flipping robot at a CaliBurger in Pasadena, CA. Or the delivery drone employed by Domino’s to drop off a pizza order in New Zealand. Of course, these examples are the exception, not the rule- these large restaurant chains just have the capital to create flashier AI displays.
While advances in technology have made AI more accessible than ever before, robots that do the food preparation or deliver orders to guests are still out of reach for the vast majority of cafes. Within the foodservice industry, AI is getting more common, but in less obvious ways.
AI at the Front of the House
AI Phone Answering
Missed phone calls can have a disastrous effect on any business. We conducted a recent survey which found that a shocking 83 percent of guests will find another eatery if they can’t reach someone or leave a voicemail.
That’s why numerous cafes are utilizing technology to help them avoid missing calls. AI phone answering technology can take calls, make reservations, add a guest to a waitlist, or even answer frequently asked questions. For example, if a guest asks, “Can I bring my dog to the yard?”, the AI phone service can be programmed to single out keywords from the sentence like “dog”, and “yard” and then respond “Our yard is dog friendly.”
This technology may seem familiar- it is analogous with the AI chatbots that have been common online for a while now. They can handle numerous, simple queries- which frees up your front-of-house staff for on the premise service and maintenance, and, of course, ensures you never miss a call.
27 percent of people online now use voice search functions, and nearly 40 percent prefer voice searching on their smartphones when looking for nearby cafes. As voice sidekicks have become more popular- Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri- the tasks that they can help people navigate have become more complex.
Guests have been using virtual sidekicks to look for cafes for just a short time. But already, a new technology is gaining popularity- voice ordering. Guests can use their smart devices to place food orders on-the-go or while multitasking. Some niche software developers, like eDeliveryApp, have implemented this in their food delivery app development software.
But this technology has more uses than simply ordering on guests’ devices. Voice Ordering could be used at tone-service kiosks, or drive-thrus, allowing guests to place orders conversationally, without the need to touch anything. Considering the pandemic, this is an excellent precaution.
Tone-serve technology goes hand-in-hand with voice ordering. It encompasses all the various ways that guests are able to regulate and customize their dining experience. Customizing menu items while ordering from kiosks. Paying the check from table-side tablets, or even their own devices. More and more guests are embracing tone-service technology in a variety of ways – and from all types of eateries, from fast food, to sit-down dining.
Example of a Particularly Niche Client
While ordering kiosks have become fairly common in many eateries, there are some that are taking it a step further. KFC is experimenting with kiosks that are equipped with facial recognition technology that can recognize regular patrons, and tailor their experience according to their preferences.
Facial recognition is not accessible for all cafes, but there are numerous ways that you’ll use AI to improve the dining experience for your guests. Online ordering and digital marketing are two venues where guest data can be collected and used to offer individualized service- from dish recommendations to targeted advertising.
AI On The Back-End
Integrated Inventory and Buying
An area of restaurant operation where AI can have a serious impact is the POS (Point of sale) systems. AI-enabled software can track manpower and capital – finding trends and making real-time recommendations for numerous items and resources to add to their inventory.
Not only does this ensure that your eatery has enough … available to avoid having to “86” (or, in layman’s terms, get rid of) a well-liked dish, it can also reduce the amount of food waste by only buying the necessary amount for your kitchens.
Smarter Staffing and Scheduling
Staffing and scheduling workers is often one of the trickiest parts of eatery operation. That’s why it’s a business where AI tech is growing to be more popular.
Using AI-enabled software, cafes can track staffing and collect data to identify trends or patterns during busy times (and less busy times.) They also can staff according to projected volume and traffic during shifts.
Optimized Delivery Processes
Food delivery popularity exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it doesn’t look like it will deaccelerate any time soon. Numerous cafes are turning to AI to help them optimize their delivery process.
AI can help drivers find the most efficient routes in order to make multiple deliveries in one trip- using charted data to avoid slowdowns and other hazards. AI can also keep guests updated about their orders- such as how UberEats and Door Gusto provide a chart for their customers, and text order status changes.
Data Grounded Perception and Foresight
In 2018, McDonald’s started using predictive AI technologies to analyze orders made at their drive-thrus. By examining this data, about what guests ordered and when, their stores were better able to anticipate rushes and prognosticate what dish would be the most popular during a given time of day. In doing this, McDonald’s was able to reduce delay times by 30 seconds on average. This type of predictive technology is often employed by cafes in numerous ways, including: to manage manpower, staffing, menu pricing, and more.
One last place where cafes can apply AI is in their digital marketing plans. There are numerous tools now available that use automation and robotic responses to send marketing emails, social media posts, and targeted advertisements to maximize views, click-through rates, and engagement.
AI marketing is also able to re-target recent patrons of your restaurant, encouraging them to return for a future visit. It can help identify opportunities to upsell these guests. All you need is the right automated marketing tools (such as the ones included in every PopMenu package.)
While it may be an intimidating subject to restauranteurs less experienced with tech, the bottom line is that AI has earned its place in the future of eating establishment operations. AI is here to stay, and with it, the numerous benefits cafes everywhere that choose to embrace it.
About the author: I’m Sophie, an avid food and technology blogger. I love to travel and eat (who does not). I have converted my love for food and technology to my profession and so I blog for eDeliveryApp.
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