The perfect blend of AI collaboration needs workers to focus on the tasks where they excel.

Faced with the business impacts of one of the largest health crises to date, restaurants of all sizes are in a pivotal moment in time where every decision—short term and long term—counts. For their businesses to survive, restaurant owners have had to act fast by rethinking operations and introducing pandemic-related initiatives.

Watching the world’s largest chains all the way down to the local mom-and-pops become innovators in such extreme times has shown the industry’s tenacity and survival instinct, even when all odds are stacked against their favor. None of these initiatives would be possible without technology as the driving factor.

Why AI is on the Menu This Season

A recent Dragontail Systems survey found that 70 percent of respondents would be more comfortable with delivery if they were able to monitor their order’s preparation from start to finish. Consumers want to be at the forefront of their meal’s creation—they don’t want to cook it, but they do want to know it was prepared in a safe environment and delivered hot and fresh to their door.

Aside from AI’s role on the back-end helping with preparation time estimation and driver scheduling, the technology is now being used in cameras, for example, which share real-time images with consumers so that they can be sure their orders are handled with care. Amid the pandemic, this means making sure that gloves and masks are used during the preparation process and that workspaces are properly sanitized.

It is clear that AI is already radically altering how work gets done in and out of the kitchen. Fearmongers often tout AI’s ability to automate processes and make better decisions in faster time compared to humans, but restaurants that deploy it mainly to displace employees will see only short-term productivity gains.

The perfect blend of AI collaboration needs workers to focus on the tasks where they excel, like customer service, so that the human element of the experience is never lost, only augmented.

AI on the Back-End 

Ask any store or shift manager how they feel about workforce scheduling, and almost none will say it’s their favorite part of the job. It’s a Catch-22: even when it’s done, it’s never perfect. However, when AI is in charge, everything looks different.

Parameters such as roles in the restaurants, peak days and hours, special events such as a Presidential debate, overtime, seniority, skills, days-off and more can be easily tracked. Managers are not only saving time in handing off this daunting task, but also allowing the best decisions to be made for optimal restaurant efficiency.

Another aspect is order prioritization—by nature, most kitchens and restaurants prepare meals based on FIFO (first-in-first-out). When using AI that enhances kitchen prioritization, for example, cooks are informed when to cook an order, ensuring that there are actually drivers available to deliver it to the customer in a timely manner.

Delivery management then allows drivers to make more deliveries per hour just by following the system’s decisions, which improve and optimize the dispatching functionality.  

The Birth of the Pandemic Intelligent Kitchen/Store

With the pandemic, our awareness of sanitation and cleanliness went dramatically up and the demand for solutions came with it. AI cameras give customers exactly that—a real-time, never-before-seen view inside the kitchen to monitor how their order is being prepped, managed, and delivered.

Another aspect where AI comes in handy is avoiding dine-in and doing more take-out and drive-thru. When a customer is making an order online and picking the order up in their car, an AI camera can detect the car plate number in addition to the customer location (phone GPS) when entering the drive-thru area to provide a faster service with a “runner” from the restaurant.

In addition, the new concept of “contactless menus” where the whole menu is online with a quick scan of a QR code is another element building popularity during the pandemic. The benefits go beyond minimizing contact with physical menus; when a restaurant implements a smart online menu, they can collect data and offer personalized suggestions based on customers’ favorite foods, food/drink combos, weather-based food recommendations, upsell, cross-sell personalized etc.—all powered by AI.

Restaurants can no Longer Afford Aversion to Technology

Challenges associated with technology, including implementation and a long-roadmap, are fading away—most technology providers are offering “Plug & Play” products or services, and most of them are working on a SaaS model. This means there’s no commitment, they are easy to use, and integrate seamlessly with the POS.

Restaurants don’t have to make a big investment to reap the benefits technology brings—taking little steps that slowly improve restaurant operations and customer experience can still lead to increased growth and higher profit margins, especially during the pandemic when money is tight. 

Technology enhances the experience, giving consumers a reason to keep ordering from their favorite places at a time when the stakes have never been so high, and the competition has never been as fierce. The pandemic is far from over but the changes we are seeing will be here for a lifetime. That’s why it is so important to leverage technology and AI now in order to see improvements in customer satisfaction and restaurant efficiency in the long term.

Ido Levanon is the CEO of Dragontail Systems. He has 20-plus years’ experience and a proven track record in successful management and turnaround of various international companies. He was CEO and a seed investor in several technology start-ups and a Financial Planning Manager for Fujitsu USA. Ido holds an MBA from San Diego University. He has been part of DT Israel since its inception in 2013 as one of the founding investors

Expert Takes, Feature, Technology