Decades ago, restaurants pioneered basic automation to enhance efficiency – early technologies like cash registers, mechanical calculators, and vending machines streamlined transactions and self-service. Automated coffee makers and buffet setups improved speed and consistency. Conveyor belts presented dishes in early sushi places, and kitchen appliances expedited food prep. Drive-thru windows emerged for faster service. These innovations formed the foundation for modern restaurant automation, showing a persistent drive to increase efficiency, minimize labor, and elevate customer convenience.
In the rapidly evolving landscape of the culinary industry, restaurants are increasingly embracing the transformative power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to enhance various aspects of their operations. This surge in AI integration stems from its unparalleled ability to optimize processes, enhance customer experiences, and streamline decision-making. From personalized menu recommendations based on customer preferences to efficient inventory management and advanced culinary creativity, AI technologies are revolutionizing how restaurants function. As competition grows fiercer and consumer expectations become more sophisticated, restaurants find themselves compelled to harness AI-driven solutions to stay relevant and deliver unparalleled dining experiences.
How Are Restaurants Using Automation in 2023?
White Castle, a renowned fast-food chain, is making strides in embracing AI technology by partnering with SoundHound, a voice AI platform, to introduce voice ordering at more of its drive-thru lanes. This initiative is set to elevate the number of AI-powered drive-thru restaurants to around 100, constituting over a quarter of White Castle’s entire portfolio, by the conclusion of 2024. The company envisions enhancing customer experiences and operational efficiency, with many AI-supported locations operating 24/7.
Checkers Drive-In Restaurants, a U.S.-based fast-food chain, has partnered with Hi Auto to introduce AI voice technology in its drive-throughs. The collaboration involves deploying Hi Auto’s Spanish-language drive-through AI voice technology across over 350 Checkers and Rally locations. This marks the first instance of bilingual drive-through voice AI ordering in the industry.
Meanwhile, Chipotle founder Steve Ells has devised an intriguing concept for a semi-automated restaurant named Kernel, focusing on automation with a human touch. Securing $36 million in series A funding, Kernel plans to launch in New York City this fall, potentially establishing 15 more locations in the vicinity over the next couple of years. The innovative venture emphasizes plant-based ingredients and automation, yet further details about its unique approach remain undisclosed. These developments collectively underscore the ongoing surge of AI and automation within the restaurant industry, reshaping how eateries operate and engage with customers.
How Consumers Feel about Automation
PYMNTS’ exclusive report titled “Connected Dining: The Robot Will Take Your Order Now” is based on a survey of nearly 2,000 U.S. consumers conducted recently. The report delves into consumer sentiments towards various restaurant technologies and the factors driving those opinions. The study found that two-thirds of consumers are not interested in robotics-powered food preparation, with most of them concerned about the potential impact of automation on food quality and personalization. A notable 83% of respondents believed that food prepared by robots would be lower quality and less personalized compared to human-prepared meals. This concern aligns with a previous study that revealed around 4 in 10 consumers perceive a decline in personalized service at restaurants. Despite these concerns, automation is gaining traction in the industry, particularly in kitchen operations. Some consumers are embracing these innovations, especially younger demographics, who are more open to testing new tech, as evidenced by the positive response to autonomous robotic food service kiosks in certain restaurant chains.
As the restaurant industry continues to adapt to evolving consumer preferences and technological advancements, it’s evident that AI will remain a significant and growing component of restaurant operations.