Chipotle to roll out AI voice ordering system across US

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The chain plans to introduce an AI voice ordering system to all of its US stores by the end of the year, reports Heather Cant

Chipotle, the US casual dining giant with $1.4 billion in revenue, began trialing artificial intelligence (AI)-powered voice assistants in 2018. They have since expanded this technology to 1,800 locations and hope to implement the system into all of their US stores by the end of the year.

As the Nation’s Restaurant News points out, while AI-powered voice assistants are utilized by various fast food chains such as Domino’s Pizza, Chipotle’s specialization in customized meals means their own technology needs to be a notch above the rest in its sophistication: it needs to hold a conversation.

The Chipotle voice robot actively listens to customers to note when they ask for an extra topping or to leave out an unwanted ingredient, and even pipes up with order suggestions of its own.

It’s a move that Nicole West, Chipotle’s vice president of digital strategy and product, says will enable greater convenience for consumers. It creates a seamless order service that allows customers to order and pay, beating the queue to their burrito.

“This technology is new and evolving,” says Melanie Corey-Ferrini Technology FCSI of 3.14 Design and Consulting in Seattle, US. “Technology needs to always be balanced with customer interface and seen as support to the human interaction. With that said, there are restaurants who are trying out various degrees of AI, voice, and robotics in the restaurant industry. This may possibly lead to lower labor with some menu types and locations, but that is still unknown.”

According to Corey-Ferrini, fully integrated processes “are still lacking in the industry. With too many disparate technologies in one location – all not talking to each other – could lead to more operational headaches versus streamlining the process.”

Increasing sales

Associate FCSI member Jay Bandy, president of Goliath Consulting Group in Georgia, US, says, “For Chipotle the win is having one more point of contact that the consumer can use. People want choices and some people like to place orders over a phone. They are taking advantage of a time when many operators refuse or discourage phone orders. The bottom line is that they will capture more sales by becoming a go-to for consumers who want to place their orders by phone.”

The biggest impact, says Corey-Ferrini, will be “more attention being paid to customer service and the experience overall and less attention to the act of ‘taking orders’. More creativity in food delivery, customer interaction and journey, can likely be a beneficial outcome of technology supporting operations and redundant tasks.”

Consultant Juan Martinez FCSI, of Profitality in Florida, US, says the AI technology could be crucial for Chipotle to handle their recent growth. Their Q2 report announced a 13.2% increase in revenue year over year. “AI order taking devices will provide a good avenue to handle this business growth autonomously, minimizing the labour needed to take the order,” he says.

Martinez points out that around 25% of the total labor time to complete an order is in the order taking and payment. “Using AI could eliminate this time,” he says. “If the part of the system that makes suggestions to customers works, it could also drive sales, and further reduce the labour cost as a percentage of sales. Restaurants are feeling a lot of pressure on the labor front, so the application of AI will continue to grow.”

Taking over the drive thru

Bandy sees Chipotle’s use of AI ordering systems as part of a growing trend: “The ability to use it as operational tool in the kitchen to track waste, to add to or place orders and complete line checks is unlimited. We’ll see the uses of AI and voice technology exponentially increase and be scaled so smaller operators have access to it. In service, I can see the technology take over drive-thru order taking and help consumers with somewhat clunky ordering kiosks that are out there now.”

There have been, says Corey-Ferrini, some smaller franchise and multi-unit concepts that are following suit to Chipotle, but on a smaller level. “I believe there will be a start-up period for the cost to implement, train others, and integrate. Once that system is in place and tested, it could have an advantage in the industry. My hope is that makes room for less food waste and greater integration of local and sustainable ingredients,” she says.

More generally, Martinez reflects on the use of AI for equipment in the restaurant industry: “On the equipment side, it should help to monitor the pieces of equipment, extending the life of the unit, as well as providing safety against product spoilage that would increase food cost, or tracking critical food safety areas, providing protection for the brand.”

Brian Niccol, CEO of Chipotle, places the casual dining giant’s Q2 success down to “better restaurant operations, more effective marketing, and leveraging [Chipotle’s] digital make line to grow sales and expand access.” The operator’s new AI voice system may well contribute to future growth.

Heather Cant

Michael Jones reports from a record-breaking Symposium that put members' education at its heart

The FCSI The Americas Symposium 2019 broke previous records for attendance, with more than 170 consultants and nearly 150 Allied members heading to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida.

Taking place in the days prior to the NAFEM Show ’19, at the same location, the attendees were treated to a full day’s program, all centered around an ‘Accelerate’ racing theme of educational keynoters and breakout seminars, along with great networking opportunities and a whole heap of fun in between.

Get set, go

The success of FCSI The Americas Division (TAD)’s events has always been to expertly marry the fun with the learning. The former took center stage at the opening party on Tuesday 5 February as attendees got to test their racing mettle on the tracks of the Andretti Indoor Karting & Games venue.

Day one of the Symposium saw event chair Brett Daniel FCSI praising the support of the 37 Allied member sponsors who had made the event possible. “Without them, we would not be able to host these events,” he said.

FCSI TAD executive director Wade Koehler introduced the 2019 #MyFCSI marketing initiative that will see prizes awarded each month to members who are visibly promoting their membership of the Society using the hashtag throughout the year. William Bender FCSI was the recipient of the inaugural award at the Symposium. “This is our way of helping our members help themselves,” said Koehler.

With the program

Keynote speaker Sam Richter, founder and CEO of SBR Worldwide/Know More and author of Take the Cold Out of Cold Calling, asked the crowd, “Could your business be better with better information?” Richter addressed the pressing issues of big data in the industry (a major story in the forthcoming Q1 2019 print edition of Foodservice Consultant), before educating attendees on how to really use online search tools effectively.

“Statistically, we waste two hours each day searching for things,” said Richter. “You need to narrow in and get information you can use to really grow your business.”

A number of breakout sessions followed, including a session from associate member Jay Bandy of Goliath Consulting Group that discussed ‘Using technology in foodservice’. “Technology is improving every facet of the business… but the restaurant business is 1,000 details every day,” he said, stressing that in order for technology to work effectively, companies must “align it with business goals.”

Additional breakout sessions addressed topics as diverse as commercial kitchen energy efficiency, succession planning, Revit tips and tricks, thinking outside the kitchen and designing for generation Z.

Joseph Schumaker FCSI and Debbie Lohmeyer of Food Space in California tackled the ‘Future of food’ in their session, including trends on snackification, flexitarian eating, localization and automation.

“The built space is not set up for the future of food,” said Schumaker. “We’re looking at how food, technology and the built space interacts with each other. We’re trying to look into the future.” This topic will also be addressed by Schumaker, Ken Schwartz FCSI and Koehler at a Consultants Panel session, sponsored by Irinox, on Friday 8 February at the NAFEM Show on the Irinox booth # 3760.

All about the members

The Symposium saw new FCSI TAD professional members recognized, as Gina Brinegar FCSI, Rad Deering FCSI, Diris Maria Faria FCSI and Robert Sheibly FCSI joined divisional chair William Caruso FFCSI and Kip Serfozo FCSI on stage.

Ed Norman FFCSI, new chair of FCSI’s Educational Foundation (EF), updated attendees on recent activities of the Foundation, which aims to attract students from around the world into the consulting profession. “It’s our task to find new talent. Please consider donating to the Foundation,” he said. If you are interested in donating to FCSI’s Educational Foundation, please click here.

A closing keynote from Richter explored the natural extension of his morning topic, ‘Do you really know your customer’, to question: ‘How well do you know yourself? Richter implored attendees to “be careful what they post” on social media and to be mindful of the “unintended consequences” of the “crazy world in which we live”.

And with that final lap of accelerated learning, it was time for members to head to the opening party of NAFEM Show ’19 for more fun, networking and education.

Michael Jones