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Implications of AI for the Restaurant Industry

According to research by the National Restaurant Association Research and Knowledge Group, the restaurant industry will likely be drastically different by the year 2030. WIthin a decade, it could be possible for an individual to approach a drive-through in an autonomous vehicle, order through an AI-powered voice ordering assistant, and eat food that was prepared by robots. One of the most obvious aspects of this interaction is that there is not a single human involved besides the consumer. These changes will cause massive implications for every aspect of the sector, most importantly for the workers and consumers. 

Restaurants and food joints, once reliable venues for human interaction, will be important for the implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Some of the changes are already taking place in major companies like McDonald’s, which has implemented technology such as personalized drive-through menus that change depending on the time of day, weather, current restaurant traffic, and trending items. This is just the beginning, and AI will transform every aspect of the industry. Some of the biggest disruptors will result from the increase in information technology, autonomous vehicles, automation and robotics in the kitchen, and AI chefs.

Increase in Information Technology

Information technology will be completely integrated into restaurants, which will become more reliant on an always changing digital ecosystem. Apps, services, and personal AI assistants will be responsible for the first connections between AI and consumers within restaurants. AI will become increasingly influential in consumers’ decisions, and restaurants will need access to detailed and accurate data. The data that is collected can be used to develop new menus or to implement real-time pricing that is based on supply-and-demand changes.

This new digital ecosystem will force restaurants to upgrade or develop entirely new data collection methods and IT systems. Virtual assistant platforms can become a place for brands to market directly, and algorithms will respond to price changes and other data. The consumer’s choice will become easier to determine due to the vast amounts of accessible data.

Autonomous Vehicles and Drive-Throughs

Autonomous vehicles are one of the most successful and well-known creations that rely on AI. As self-driving cars increasingly take over the market, other sectors will have to adapt. Drivers will have more time to eat, go through drive-throughs with the vehicles, use both hands when eating, and longer travel times will become more commonplace. All of this means that restaurants, especially fast-food places, will have to change how they operate.

Restaurants that interact with autonomous vehicles are setting themselves up to be better prepared for the future, as the technology will almost certainly spread everywhere. Software, such as AI assistants, will become more important in choosing destinations and interfacing directly with cars. Restaurants will likely increase their marketing presence in areas such as the screens in autonomous vehicles.

Before the use of self-driving passenger vehicles becomes common, it is likely that there will be the use of autonomous delivery vehicles. This will drastically change the way a restaurant delivers food, and there will be less of a need for delivery drivers. With the increased use of autonomous vehicles, drive-throughs will be forced to change in order to interact with the technology.

Automation and Robotics in the Kitchen

Automation and robotics are going to become increasingly present in restaurants. Technologies such as touchscreen ordering kiosks are already popping up and will continue to spread. As costs associated with automation become more affordable and robotics become more sophisticated, the kitchen will face the same fate. Automation is already causing a decrease in staffing needs and affecting compensations, and this will inevitably spread throughout the workings of a restaurant. While some cooks will work with the systems, individuals responsible for the repetitive parts of food preparation will no longer be needed.

With the increasing presence of robotic equipment, kitchen staff are going to be required to possess non-traditional skillsets. Individuals working in a restaurant that utilizes automation and robotics will be expected to interact with the systems. These sophisticated systems will also increase the cost to operate.

AI Chefs and New Creations

Besides the logistical operations of a restaurant, AI will greatly affect the creative process as well. An AI will be able to analyze data about foods, beverages, ingredients, chemical compounds, techniques, and tastes in order to develop new recipes, foods, and beverages. Artificial intelligence will be responsible for the creation of entirely new categories of cuisine, influencing the establishment of restaurant types that have yet to be seen.

While we have famous human chefs in today’s world, the future could hold a place for AI chefs. These would exist in software and could be used in multiple locations simultaneously. AI chefs would be less likely to make mistakes and could create personalized dishes based on preferences, allergens, and health conditions.

Drastic Changes

These changes brought on by artificial intelligence will drastically alter the restaurant industry. While it may appear to be an amazing futuristic land of robots and technology, there will be serious implications that need to be addressed. What will this technology do to populations that already face issues surrounding fast-food? Do we really need more marketing overload? Most importantly, what will happen to the vast amount of people who rely on these jobs that will be taken by robots? This goes beyond restaurants and is part of a technological revolution, with the outcome depending greatly on the decisions made by industry leaders.

Author: Alex McFarland is a journalist who covers developments in AI