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Cooking Up Convenience: ChatGPT and AI’s Impact on the Restaurant Industry

restaurants meet ai

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ChatGPT and AI have the world turned upside down. Some embrace the technology with open arms, while others are sharpening their pitchforks and digging in their heels. 

At this point, there’s no escaping artificial intelligence. Yes, even in the restaurant world, where we rely on our sensory skills, years of expertise, and friendly customer service to make an impact, ChatGPT and artificial intelligence are nudging their way to the forefront. 

Restaurants can use ChatGPT and AI to streamline restaurant operations and improve the ordering and dining experience for customers, all while increasing sales. But at what cost?

Concerns over the restaurant industry’s use of ChatGPT and other AI technology are valid, as many fear the loss of jobs or a decline in quality in favor of robotics and affordable software.

Let’s explore how the restaurant industry is using ChatGPT to cook up convenience for all, and if the trade-off is a valid concern. 

Ingredient, Recipe, and Menu Development

ChatGPT is a great and easy way to brainstorm ideas. In the restaurant industry, a major use of ChatGPT and AI’s functionality is for ingredient, product, and menu development. 

Today’s customers want limited time offers, rapid product innovation, and exclusive collaborations. With short attention spans and access to a never-ending feed of new products, customers are always on the hunt for the “Next Big Thing.” Sure, chefs and food professionals can whip up a recipe or new product idea based on years of cooking experience and ingredient knowledge. But having to do this while managing other elements of the kitchen and restaurant can be a drag. 

Tools like Foodpairing® (one of our clients) are changing this process by using AI and ChatGPT to expedite recipe development while still adhering to industry-wide food science and culinary principles. Chefs can input a handful of ingredients into ChatGPT and receive novel product or recipe ideas in seconds. 

However, not all of ChatGPT’s suggestions are delicious (care for a shrimp latte or ketchup ice cream, anyone?) Chefs can use Foodpairing’s proprietary data on how humans perceive which foods go together to further develop the ideas ChatGPT generates.

Those interested in product development can use AI and ChatGPT to generate ideas and ingredient formulations too. Biochemists and computational biologists at ingredient startup, Shiru, used AI to review almost 10,000 formulations to create their latest ingredient innovation: OleoPro, a plant-based fat ingredient. 

In an industry where customers want fresh, original ideas by tomorrow, restaurant Research and Development teams can’t afford to take their time on new products or recipes. Tastewise, an AI-powered food and beverage research tool, uses AI and social listening algorithms to provide restaurant R&D teams a quick way to analyze trends, validate new ideas, and capitalize on them.

Over in the coffee industry, powerhouses like Café Juan Valdez in Colombia are leveraging ChatGPT to create creative drink ideas for a limited time offer. So, what tasty drinks did ChatGPT come up with? A chocolate avocado mocha and a lavender blackberry latte with lavender and blackberry. Would you give these drinks a try?

BOH Operations: Inventory Management, Scheduling, and Reporting

Certain elements of restaurant management are fun: recipe creation, partnerships with local vendors, brand development. Other tasks are not so appealing, such as:

  • Inventory management
  • Staff scheduling
  • Weekly, monthly, and annual reporting
  • Opening and closing task lists

These necessary areas of operation (that no one looks forward to) take up a great deal of your time each week—time that could be better spent elsewhere in the restaurant. This is where artificial intelligence and ChatGPT add convenience and efficiency to a restaurant’s operations.

Don’t Let Inventory Manage You

Inventory management is a major responsibility at a restaurant—and one riddled with costly human errors. If the count is off, the restaurant might overbuy or be short products the following week. 

AI-powered tools reduce the possibility of inventory errors by maintaining an active log of existing inventory, identifying sales trends within your restaurant, and forecasting future sales. Based on the week’s sales and forecasted sales, these tools generate a predictive list of the inventory you’ll need to purchase for the upcoming week.

For instance, Afresh Technologies recently launched a predictive ordering food management system that leverages artificial intelligence and natural language processing to reduce waste and maintain freshness for produce inventory in grocery stores. Managers receive real-time inventory reports, generated by artificial intelligence, along with quick ordering tools for a seamless inventory management process. Yum! Brands implements a similar ordering system that notifies managers of how much product to order weekly. 

Scheduling Made Easy

Juggling staff schedules is a science and an artform all at once. Restaurant managers can input staff availability, salary information, and desired labor cost percentage into tools like ChatGPT or lineup.ai and prompt it to create a schedule. Instead of memorizing everyone’s availability or calculating labor costs, the tools do it all for you.

Automated Reports

Arguably one of the most convenient uses of artificial intelligence for restaurants is the ability to pull together customized reports instantly. 

You can ask an AI-powered tool, “How many orders of pasta primavera did we sell on August 13, 2022?” or “What was our average ticket size on Friday?” and have your answer right away. Since ChatGPT uses natural language processing, you’ll be able to have a conversation with the software regarding the report formatting, content, and data sources.

A New Ordering Frontier

You’ve likely already experienced ChatGPT in action when you order from a restaurant online. ChatGPT’s programming makes it by nature a conversational tool. What better use of this technology than to expedite and personalize the ordering experience for customers?

Voice-Activated Drive-Thru

Imagine going to a drive-thru and never speaking with a human. What would that experience look like? You might find out sooner than you think.

In March 2023, OpenAI—the creators behind ChatGPT—announced a collaboration with Presto, the largest drive-thru automation technology provider in the hospitality industry. The collaboration resulted in ChatGPT’s usage in Presto’s drive-thru AI voice assistant (Presto Voice™) to mimic human-like interactions with customers. 

In a company press release, Presto said, “As more customers use the system, the AI engine becomes smarter and more context-aware – incorporating new accents, alternative terms, and unique customer queries. According to data from hundreds of stores where Presto Voice is currently deployed, over 95% of restaurant drive-thru orders are typically taken without any staff intervention.”

A few months later in May 2023, Wendy’s announced a partnership with Google Cloud to create “Wendy’s Fresh AI” to manage its drive-thru ordering system. Fresh AI is designed to have conversations with customers, acknowledge and understand custom order requests, and generate rapid responses to questions. The tool sources information from Wendy’s menu, along with rules and logic to guide conversations.

The next time you’re craving a Baconator, you might not need to speak to a human to order it!

Mobile Ordering 

AI technology isn’t limited to drive-thru ordering. ChatGPT’s model can be used to power online ordering chatbots accessed via a mobile app or text-to-order system. Such capabilities also open the door for suggesting ordering and upselling opportunities on mobile apps and tableside POS systems.

Software such as OrderAI by HungerRush (one of our clients) use ChatGPT to facilitate voice and text ordering opportunities for restaurants. This technology also takes care of managing orders and reservations for restaurants, so a staff member doesn’t have to be waiting by the POS or phone every time a customer wants to order.

But, Google beat these tools to the punch when it launched Google Assistant in early 2019. Google Assistant calls a restaurant on behalf of a customer to place a reservation or make an order, without customers ever having to speak to an employee. This technology uses voice-activated artificial intelligence to have a genuine phone conversation with the restaurant. 

It’s safe to say that customers who dread calling a restaurant for takeout or a reservation are thrilled over this use of AI. 

Most recently, DoorDash has announced a new AI voice ordering feature for select operators. Through this feature, restaurants can increase takeout and delivery sales volume without adding labor costs or burdening existing workers with managing phone orders. 

A third-party delivery system like DoorDash getting on board the voice-activated AI train means this technology is no longer siloed to the big players—independent operators of all sizes will now have access to voice ordering AI technology with the click of a button. 

Interestingly enough, DoorDash’s 2023 Restaurant Online Ordering Trends Report found that one in five customers still prefer to order takeout over the phone. Now with the new voice-activated AI feature, both mobile app and phone ordering customers can receive the same level of service, personalization, and speed.

Expedited Restaurant Promotion

Promoting a restaurant all too often falls on the shoulders of restaurant owners and managers, rather than a dedicated marketing team. But even restaurant groups lucky enough to have one marketing professional in-house have way more work than that person can reasonably handle. Yet, promotional campaigns require several moving pieces, media assets, and written copy to function successfully. What restaurant has time to manage all this?

ChatGPT and AI have the opportunity to make a significant impact on a restaurant’s promotional activities, including:

  • Email marketing — Ask ChatGPT to write marketing copy for an email newsletter. Develop AI-segmented email lists based on subscriber activities.
  • Social media — Implement a ChatGPT-powered social media chatbot to answer customer messages, take orders, and confirm reservations. Prompt ChatGPT to create social media marketing content ideas.
  • Campaign strategy — Struggling to come up with your next big marketing campaign? Ask ChatGPT for answers! Let ChatGPT create the strategy for your new menu launch. 

Beyond creating novel recipes and products, the most obvious use of ChatGPT in a restaurant is to create menu descriptions. On the surface, menu descriptions are a simple ingredient list. However, these descriptions have the power to influence a customer’s purchase decision and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Since not everyone is a seasoned writer, tools like ChatGPT can expedite the writing process by offering multiple description choices based on your brand voice, ingredients list, recipe details, and more.

Of course, the first few responses from ChatGPT may not be perfectly tailored to the restaurant’s brand and voice. But after a few prompts, it’ll learn!

But, marketing activities that would have taken days or weeks previously can now be accomplished in a fraction of the time. 

Addressing Labor Shortages

According to the National Restaurant Association, “62% of operators say their restaurant does not have enough employees to support its existing customer demand.” Naturally, restaurants struggling to hire and retain staff began implementing ChatGPT and AI in various areas of the restaurant to make up for the loss. 

While some uses of AI have been robotic — like Meta AI’s robot arm called RoboAgent and Chipotle’s “Chippy” tortilla-making robot — others are more software-based, such as AI-powered reservation management systems. 

These systems don’t necessarily replace an individual’s job but rather redistribute employee efforts to higher-value areas of the restaurant such as front-of-house service and back-of-house operations. An employee that previously would have spent time entering orders into the POS all shift can now use their time to engage with customers, assist with cleaning tasks, or prep inventory for the next shift. 

What Does This Mean for the Future of Restaurants? 

While on the topic of labor…

The greatest concern about AI in the restaurant industry is the elimination of jobs. If voice-activated AI can engage in customer conversations and manage orders, why would a restaurant need to hire waitstaff? 

On the other end of the spectrum, many argue that if the restaurant industry relies too heavily on artificial intelligence to do the job of a human, we’ll start to see:

  • A decline in hospitality in the food and beverage industry
  • Critical errors and process breakdowns when technology fails
  • A loss of restaurant community
  • Unoriginality across menus, restaurant concepts, and recipes

Sure, ChatGPT *can* spit out a recipe for you. But will it taste good? Do the recommended ingredients work well together? Only a human can know for sure.

What happens when a chatbot starts deviating from the intended prompts and promising customers reservation times that don’t exist or offering incorrect allergen information? You can’t fire a chatbot.

As it stands today, ChatGPT and AI need to work in tandem with restaurant employees for the best outcomes. The impact of ChatGPT and artificial intelligence on the restaurant industry is still evolving. After all, we’re only a few years into this. Perhaps the robots will become our friends and make us all a tasty meal to share.  

Anne Mercer

Anne is a content marketing manager at Alimentous Studio and Fresh Cup Magazine. She is also a co-owner of Victus Coffee, a Connecticut-based coffee roastery and cafe.

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