All Articles Food Restaurant and Foodservice How restaurants are using AI, from menu development to marketing

How restaurants are using AI, from menu development to marketing

Restaurants are using artificial intelligence to streamline tasks and generate everything from menu ideas to marketing copy as they look for ways to innovate and ease employees’ workload.

6 min read

FoodRestaurant and Foodservice

How restaurants are using AI, from menu development to marketing [Two coffee shop employees look at a laptop screen]

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As restaurants continue to rebuild their rosters after the pandemic, many are finding it difficult to fill all their open positions, and the National Restaurant Association recently noted that there is just “one job seeker for every two open jobs.” Artificial intelligence offers options for enhancing the work done by current employees, making it possible to do more with a leaner staff. Fifty-eight percent of operators said using technology and automation will become more common in their segment this year, according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2023 State of the Restaurant Industry report.

Here is a look at some of the ways restaurants are putting AI to work.

Voice AI answers the call (and takes orders)

Many restaurants are experimenting with the use of voice AI to take customers’ orders, either at the drive-thru, over the phone or at in-store kiosks. 

Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s parent company CKE Restaurants is working with tech companies Presto, OpenCity and Valyant AI on voice ordering, CNBC reported. The voice-ordering software enters customers’ orders into the system while still allowing employees to hear what customers are saying in the drive-thru. Tests of the technology have exceeded the company’s expectations in terms of how often workers need to intervene and the ability of the software to upsell customers, CKE’s chief technology officer, Phil Crawford, said. The chain plans to roll out the technology to all its units nationwide.

Wingstop announced earlier this year that it is testing an AI voice assistant from ConverseNow to handle phone orders. The program, which is designed to eliminate missed calls and process phone orders the same as online orders, can take orders in English and Spanish, Chain Store Age reported.

Plant-based burger concept PLNT Burger is working to integrate voice AI into its operation via in-store kiosks that will eventually let customers order and even pay using their voice. The chain is working with Yobe and SoundHound to refine the technology’s ability to understand natural human speech, co-founder and CEO Ben Kaplan told Kiosk Marketplace.

Getting a marketing edge with AI

AI is quickly gaining traction as a marketing tool to allow brands to quickly write copy for multiple platforms. As more companies turn to AI-generated content, it will be increasingly important to pair the technology with the human touch to ensure messaging is authentic and unique rather than cookie-cutter.

“ChatGPT is helping people write more and more content, but that’s going to mean lots of generic content,” PopMenu co-founder and CEO Brendan Sweeney said during a session at the National Restaurant Association Show in May. 

The company recently released a feature to help restaurants automate digital marketing by analyzing information about a restaurant’s menu and events along with customer data to create marketing copy that is then refined by human employees. Kat Johnson, director of marketing and communications at Chai Pani Restaurant Group, said the tool streamlines the marketing strategy and allows her to “focus more on the storytelling side of things.”

In addition to adjusting marketing messaging based on what restaurants know about their customer base, automated marketing software can also account for external factors such as weather. Dunkin’ recently announced a partnership with marketing tech company HubKonnect, which can automatically play up messaging about hot drinks on a cold day, for example.

“If there’s going to be a heat wave, what if there’s a special or a digital offer that can be sent to, ‘Buy this, get this?’” HubKonnect co-founder and CEO told PYMNTS. “So, it’s really being reactive.”

Using tech to connect with employees

Using AI to automate certain tasks can help restaurants do more with less, but hiring and retention are still top priorities for many operators. AI also offers solutions in these areas, including chatbots that take prospective employees through the stages of the recruitment process and match them with potential jobs.

Workstream created a ChatGPT-powered chatbot called Workstream Assistant that aims to help restaurants hire hourly employees as quickly as possible by cutting down on response times.

“The job that you’re gonna take is the first person to get back to you with a positive response,” Workstream Senior Account Executive Aidan Vaandering told Restaurant Business. “Speed is everything.”

Tech company Harri also offers an AI hiring assistant, Karri, and is developing an AI-enabled scheduling platform called Harri Engage that is designed to help restaurants retain employees.

“When we start to see someone has been late a certain number of times, part of the Harri Engage platform is how do we interact with those employees based on triggers that are happening with the system to make sure we understand what is going on in their lives,” Harri Senior Vice President Keegan Conrey said during a recent SmartBrief webinar.

“Most operators don’t know what’s going on because they don’t ask or don’t have the bandwidth to ask,” Conrey said, explaining that the Harri Engage system allows operators to automatically check in on employees and send out programmatic alerts based on triggers to help with retention.

Cooking up recipe ideas with AI

AI is also making its way into the kitchen, with some restaurants tapping the technology to suggest new menu items.

Motor City Pizza in Lewisville, Texas, tried out a ChatGPT-generated recipe for an elote pizza provided by a regular customer and ended up putting the corn-topped pie on the menu. Winston Edmondson, who suggested the recipe, said he is hoping to convince the restaurant’s owner to feature a rotating AI menu, CBS Texas reported.

Dallas-based taco chain Velvet Taco is also experimenting with ChatGPT. Culinary Director Venecia Willis plugged the restaurant’s core ingredients and basic taco formula into the AI chatbot to create the Chat GPTaco. The steak and shrimp taco will be on the menu at all Velvet Taco locations for a limited time this month, and the chain is promoting it with billboards and radio ads in Dallas. While AI-generated recipes may be just an experiment for now, Willis told Restaurant Business, “I have a few more ideas on how I would like to use AI in the future and menu development is definitely part of that.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly named Workstream’s AI chatbot platform. It is called Workstream Assistant.

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