Reimagining the Restaurant Industry Through Conversational AI
The restaurant industry faced severe challenges during the pandemic. In the United States alone, 110,000 establishments closed. Nearly 2.5 million jobs were erased from pre-pandemic levels. According to the National Restaurant Association sales dropped by $240 billion from an expected $899 billion. Restaurant brands are taking action to preserve their business, improve customer loyalty, and create a strong foundation to reimagine their business. This is reflected in an industry study by McKinsey on how restaurants can thrive in the new normal. In the post-pandemic world, conversational AI is helping restaurant brands better engage their customers and manage their restaurant operations.
In this blog post, we will focus on conversational AI use cases and share steps that a restaurant brand can follow to kick-start conversational AI transformation.
According to a Seelevel HX 2020 study, drive-thru ordering surged over the last year as the coronavirus pandemic shuttered indoor dining and made consumers wary of entering restaurants. Industry experts believe that drive-thru ordering will remain above pre-pandemic levels, even after vaccination reaches the masses. Quick service restaurant brands are ramping up investments to make their drive-thru lanes more efficient while more fast casual restaurants are adding their first drive-thru lanes.
Conversational AI can play a critical role in drive-thru ordering. For example, a Conversational assistant can enable order taking at the point of purchase in the drive-thru lane. Or, to enable mobile ordering, a customer can order ahead and a curbside pickup assistant can deliver to the car.
Although customers usually order food through a mobile app, website, or in person, restaurant brands are exploring voice-based food ordering. Restaurants can embed voice-based ordering in native mobile apps or create extensions into other voice-ordering ecosystems.
Another interaction point between restaurants and consumers is around managing table reservations for in-person dining or party planning details for large catering orders and events. Recently, NLX, an AWS Travel & Hospitality Competency Partner, demonstrated the power of augmented voice ordering. This innovation enables voice enablement of the restaurant booking but simultaneously makes it multi-modal; where the voice interaction can connect with the mobile app and guide the customer through the whole process.
Restaurants are adopting conversational AI to provide innovative food ordering capabilities to their customers. Chipotle enables its customers to use Amazon Alexa to reorder their favorite meals for delivery or pickup. The company has also rolled out its own AI voice assistants to all 2,500 restaurants. Customers can pay ahead and skip the line. They can pick up in the store or drive-thru in ‘Chipotlanes’. Similar to Chipotle, many restaurants are rolling out AI voice assistants to streamline their ordering process. Some restaurants are taking conversational AI a step further to handle drive-thru orders. These restaurants want to use AI to take orders, make suggestions, and answer questions about the menu.
Consumer engagement in a restaurant is critical to increase customer satisfaction and, thereby, sales. Optimizing restaurant operations is equally critical to drive efficiencies and profitability. A research study conducted by National Restaurant Organization reveals that by 2030, back-of-house operations will become more fully automated as costs fall and flexible, reprogrammable robot systems grow more sophisticated. The repetitive elements of food preparation will be increasingly automated, including, through motion-capture replication, the chefs’ movements. Chefs will work in collaboration with these systems, using their physical senses and expert judgment. India-based Rebel Foods has revolutionized the food industry by collaborating with chefs to develop automated, standardized recipes that are prepared by an IoT-driven intelligent wok. The company works with chefs to capture food recipes, temperature, and ingredients. It breaks down the recipes to create standard operating procedures, and then gives them to the 3,500 internet restaurants associated with the company to deliver. The online restaurant company plans to continue their success by building these machines to increase throughput consistency and ensure quality.
Conversational AI can drive efficiency in back-office operations, too. Restaurant brands are exploring potential uses to automate repeated, manual activities such as checking and managing inventory and replenishing goods. Considering the emerging advancements in technology, conversational AI can also be used for smart kitchen device management and monitoring kitchen alerts. Considering the ease of implementation, conversational AI can be used for these use cases, too:
- Communication and confirmation of routine task execution.
- Checklist review.
- Exceptions and alerts management when employees approach overtime.
- Facility access management.
Starting the Conversational AI Journey
Although the use of conversational AI in the restaurant industry is in the early stage, it can significantly streamline current operational processes. Leading restaurants are already adopting conversational AI and innovating. Others are developing custom use cases that can help them reimagine their existing process. There are some short-term challenges like getting senior sponsorship and financial support for such a radical cultural shift, but the benefits of increasing the customer base outweigh the costs.
The first step in this journey is to identify the strategic goals and work backward to define the use cases for conversational AI. To optimize food ordering, restaurants can experiment with conversational AI technology such as Amazon Alexa. To enhance their customer experience, they can build chat bots and text-to-speech capabilities using Amazon Lex and Amazon Polly. To incorporate intelligence in the food ordering process, restaurants can use Amazon SageMaker. By reimagining their business models and embracing Amazon technologies, restaurants are in the position to completely transform the food ordering process and delight their customers.
Learn more about how AWS is helping transform the travel and hospitality industry.