The implication of artificial intelligence (AI) and voice technology on the restaurant industry is nothing short of revolutionary. Beyond a trend, AI is going to shift our economy as a whole, let alone the world of restaurant production, sales and service.
I foresee that within the next decade – and likely within the next five years – basic production jobs will be transferred to robotics of some sort. Production line services, like that of Chipotle, will be able to be performed with robotics. Jobs for human line production, regardless of production nuance and as well as cash transaction summary at a point of sale (POS) will go away.
For the restaurant industry as a whole, certainly the fast casual and quick service restaurant (QSR) segments will be impacted with robotic replacement of human performance. This will occur for large vendor manufacturers as well.
The implications are equal to and surpass that of the industrial revolution. This technological revolution will be all encompassing to any job/position that has to do with repeated production that is based on consistent performance. If we foodservice and hospitality professionals are in the top three largest fields of work globally, we are and will be part of layoffs of human workers beyond imagination.
But the benefits to our industry and the operators there in are many: increased production; increased efficiency and consistency of production is obvious. Fiscally, the ability in current business norms to capitalize the investment of machinery, explore research and development is a boon to financial modeling. Labor, issues with pay, minimum wage, overtime, (traditional) training, HR issues with humans will all go away.
The implications for AI touch every phase of our industry, from daily production to truck driving delivery or food delivery. Every one of these jobs will end up being AI impacted and people doing serving in those positions will be, simply, out of work.
Subsequently, the challenges we face as an industry and societally are the same: what about the human condition? What about jobs training now for workers? What are worlds of work that will have opportunity?
A big challenge for companies will be to not wash our hands of this issue. And here’s why: if we end up putting so many people out of work thanks to the use of expanded tech, AI/voice recognition and more, who’s going to have money to buy our products?
This AI/tech issue is essentially an existential question. As an industry, and as businesses already investing or about ready to invest in AI, the greater human issues had likely better be part of our dialogue.
The impact for Chipotle
For Chipotle, the choice seems obvious from a purely capitalistic point of view. As a leading brand, invest now, be a leader in AI for all the reasons mentioned. As well as being seen as an innovator, there is the simple top and bottom line impact of increased production, quality and consistency and end of labor “headaches”.
The positive impacts will be in the short term: top-line sales increases from the point of view of interest of what’s being done with AI. The long-term positive impacts will be all that I’ve mentioned previously regarding production, exceptionally lower prime cost with labor.
At an existential level, another impact for Chipotle and any other brands stepping into this world of AI/voice technology will be to some how re-evaluate capitalism at some level because so many work positions are going to be obsolete as to demand a dialogue about what the role is of companies to invest in human capital at the same time.
Chipotle will have a leg up, as will any major player integrating AI into their production line and overall business model. The good news two or three fold and includes being seen as an innovator at the leading edge. Sales and, more so, profitability will go up.
Are other operators likely to follow suit? Absolutely. There’s no doubt the implementation of AI is a mega trend – what is called a ‘hard trend’. This technology is coming, there’s no doubt.
The unspoken part of this dialogue is the responsibility to society as we know it as AI takes over. If not, the companies that install AI, the government or some form of social meritocracy will be needed to re-tool and re-train humans that have held the jobs that AI – in whatever form it takes – will take away. Although some, perhaps many, will disagree the human impact dialogue is part of this story and needs to be addressed at the same time.
Read our feature on Chipotle’s rollout of voice technology in the US here.