If there are two undeniable truths in the restaurant business, they are the following: margins are always slim and customer preferences are constantly changing. Both contribute to making the restaurant business one of the most difficult of all to find success in. Some restaurant chains are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) in hopes that it will make a difference.

The Nanalyze website reports that McDonald’s is the latest corporate restaurant enterprise to invest in AI. The 65-year-old company has apparently acquired two technology companies whose products are geared toward AI. McDonald’s hopes to put the technologies to use to improve drive-through service, initiate more timely food preparation, and perhaps even reduce its workforce.

A Bit About AI

Before discussing how restaurants are utilizing AI, it’s important to establish what we are referring to here. In the truest sense, AI is the ability of a machine to intelligently think for itself. Modern technology is far from achieving such a high standard. Today, the best we can do with AI is program algorithms that instruct computers to gather data, analyze that data against existing data sets, and respond accordingly.

As an example, AI can be effectively implemented to play chess. Programmers give machines huge data sets to work with while superfast processors crunch all the data to come up with the best move on every turn. But the computer still doesn’t think for itself. All it does is crunch numbers.

AI at the Drive-Through

So, how are restaurants utilizing AI these days? Nanalyze says that one of the goals at McDonald’s is to improve the drive-through experience. They say some McDonald’s locations are already experimenting with chat bots capable of reducing idle times and improving order accuracy. By the way, said chat bots respond with synthesized voices, not text.

Another implementation of AI utilizes global positioning to initiate food preparation based on a customer’s proximity to the restaurant. The idea here would be to order food remotely using a computer or smartphone. Once you arrive at the restaurant, food preparation would automatically begin. You wouldn’t have to step up to a counter to order or wait for a server to visit your table.

Building Customer Profiles

AI is a tool that can be used to build customer profiles. This could be very attractive to the restaurant industry – especially the fast food sector. Accurate customer profiles would make it possible to alter a drive-through menu based on who is pulling up to the ordering station next. It could allow restaurants to anticipate regular customers visits and ordering based on past history. This would help with maintaining inventory and scheduling kitchen staff.

The push to implement AI seems to be a combination of the need for greater efficiency and the desire to personalize the restaurant experience to each customer. Personalization is something restaurants can achieve even without technology. However, AI isn’t always the best fit for restaurants. For example, a traditional Mexican restaurant like Taqueria 27 relies more on personal relationships than technology. But technology often makes personalization more accurate and efficient.

Only a Matter of Time

While folks at Taqueria27 strive to offer personalized, neighborhood service to their many customers, corporate chains like McDonald’s have every intention of continuing to pursue AI technology. It is only a matter of time before your local McDonald’s has more technology than actual human beings behind the counter.

Artificial intelligence has a lot of potential we are not yet close to tapping into. But the more that potential is understood, the more real-world applications AI presents. The restaurant sector is likely to see a gradually increasing reliance on AI to improve everything from ordering to inventory control.

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