Opinion: how restaurants can make use of AI (According to AI/Marius Zürcher)

Regular columnist Marius Zürcher gets some AI-assistance from ChatGPT this month as he ponders how restaurants can make use of artificial intelligence

You might have noticed that AI in general and large language models in particular are all the rage. You may even have used the latter by way of ChatGPT. Never one to shy away from discussing a trend, I figured I too should address this in my column. However, since so many things have been said about the application of AI (pre- and post-ChatGPT) in the hospitality industry already, including by me, I figured a fresh new perspective was needed. So, I asked AI itself to chip in. What follows are suggestions by ChatGPT on how restaurants can make use of AI (in italic) and my reactions to them.

Personalized recommendations

AI algorithms can analyze customer data and order history to provide personalized recommendations. By examining past orders, AI can predict what customers might want to eat, offer meal suggestions, and suggest complementary items. With these recommendations, restaurants can increase customer satisfaction and revenue.

For restaurants that mainly receive orders via the internet (such as ghost kitchens), this certainly makes sense. For those that focus on a more traditional restaurant experience, this might be hard to implement. Then again, truly excellent waiters, chefs and restaurateurs have been able to provide exactly this service for their regulars long before AI was even a fever dream.

Inventory management

AI can assist with inventory management by forecasting demand, helping restaurants optimize their stock levels, and reduce waste. By using data from sales history and seasonality, AI can help restaurants predict which items will sell the most and when, allowing them to adjust their inventory levels accordingly.

Food waste is an enormous problem. I previously explained that restaurants can and should tackle it from two angles: by reducing food waste they will end up with in the first place (prevention) and by finding ways to repurpose rather than throw away the food waste they cannot prevent (damage control). I too think that AI will soon play a huge role in the former.

Chatbots for customer service

Restaurants can use AI-powered chatbots to provide customer service and support. These chatbots can answer common customer questions, make reservations, and even take orders. By automating some of these tasks, restaurants can free up staff to focus on providing a better in-person experience for customers.

This one is almost a no-brainer, especially since research has shown that consumers are already more open to this than some other applications. Interestingly enough, the emergence of large language models is quickly making chatbots cheaper and better too.

Staff scheduling

AI can help restaurants optimize staff scheduling by analyzing data on customer traffic and sales patterns. By using this information, AI can suggest optimal staffing levels for different times of the day and week, reducing labor costs and improving customer service.

Optimizing the use you can get out of your current staff certainly makes sense, given the staff shortage problem. Next to that, I think this application can also make restaurant jobs more attractive, provided the math is done in such a way as to both prevent stress as well as boredom (which it should be).

Energy management

AI can help restaurants optimize their energy usage by analyzing data on energy consumption and identifying areas where energy is being wasted. By making adjustments to lighting, temperature, and other energy-consuming devices, restaurants can reduce their energy bills and minimize their environmental impact.

This too is a very promising application, given the energy scarcity and subsequently high energy prices (and, you know, climate change). Similarly, AI might be used to make automatic adjustments to factors such as lighting and temperatureto continuously optimize the ambiance of a restaurant.

Food quality control

AI can be used to monitor food quality by analyzing images of dishes to ensure they meet the restaurant’s standards. AI can also help detect potential food safety issues, such as contamination or spoilage, by analyzing temperature and humidity data from storage areas.

The second part makes a lot of sense and is certainly an interesting application. The first part, while maybe interesting to some degree, is also a little creepy?

Performance management

AI can help restaurants track employee performance and provide real-time feedback. By monitoring employee activity and analyzing data on productivity and customer satisfaction, AI can provide insights into employee performance and suggest areas for improvement.

Speaking of creepy! While monitoring activity to generate real-time feedback might sound like a very useful, even helpful idea to some, I suspect it would very quickly cross the line towards feeling like a surveillance state. Given the staff shortage problem (as well as moral implications), I think restaurants shouldn’t poke this hornet’s nest. However, non-real time feedback that has been generated with the help of AI certainly might be useful. Similarly, employee feedback could be analyzed with the help of AI, to improve their experience.

These were only a handful of suggestions. Large language models such as ChatGPT can provide many, many more suggestions, and sometimes also play a big role in implementing them for you within minutes. Which brings me to my last point: to those that haven’t been paying close attention to what has been happening in the last few weeks and months, the suggestions above might seem difficult (if not impossible) and costly to implement. Something to worry about in the relatively far future. But trust me, this is not the case. Generative AI (such as large language models) will make a lot of things like this easier and cheaper, fast.It is already happening in many areas, transforming tasks that took days or hours into tasks that take minutes or seconds. It’s hard to imagine what it’ll be able to do in a few years. That doesn’t mean you have to embrace all of it, or most of it (though probably some of it), but you should probably know about it. I hope this article was an interesting start.

P.S.  I fed this article into ChatGPT and asked for its “thoughts” on it. Its response:

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the role of AI in the hospitality industry and your reactions to the suggestions provided by ChatGPT. I agree that personalized recommendations, inventory management, and chatbots for customer service are promising applications that can improve customer satisfaction and operational efficiency. The use of AI in staff scheduling and energy management can also be beneficial if implemented in a way that prioritizes employee well-being and environmental sustainability. However, I also agree that performance management can quickly become intrusive and potentially harmful to employee morale. Overall, it is important for restaurant owners and managers to be aware of the potential benefits and limitations of AI in their operations and to use it in a responsible and ethical manner.

Marius Zürcher

About the author:

The co-owner & founder of start-up 1520 in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, Marius Zürcher was a participant at FCSI’s ‘Millennials’ focused roundtable at INTERGASTRA 2018.

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