How to Start Using AI in Your Restaurant

5 ways to dip into AI before diving in

Maybe you’ve buried your head in the walk-in, ignoring all the recent chatter about artificial intelligence, “smart” robots that can flip burgers or fry tortilla chips, or any of the tech advancements promising to revolutionize the restaurant industry.

That’s understandable, given the pace of change and the P.T. Barnum-esque level of puffery behind some of these innovations.

Behemoths such as McDonald’s, Domino’s and Chipotle Mexican Grill have been tinkering with AI for years to streamline operations and improve efficiency. But even the smallest operation can leverage the benefits of AI in a variety of ways as a growing number of point-of-sale (POS) systems begin incorporating the technology into their platforms. If you’re already collecting data, it’s worth investigating what would best help your business, whether it’s voice commerce, employee management or fraud detection. Here are five ways POS systems are streamlining operations using AI.

1. Voice Commerce

Wingstop is among the chains working with voice AI firm ConverseNow to automate ordering. Voice orders are processed via the POS in the same manner as other online tickets, eliminating the need for further staff training while also boosting efficiency, according to the tech company. Plus, the bots appear to be good at upselling. “We think this AI solution is a great catalyst for further expansion where we enjoy and benefit from a higher average check,” Wingstop’s CEO told analysts during the wing chain’s second quarter earnings call. The technology is still in test mode at big restaurant chains that have outsized research and development budgets. It’ll need to prove its ROI before it gains wider adoption.

2. Menu Optimization

When it comes to menus, AI can lend a hand in a variety of ways: It can write a menu based on a few parameters, as well as aid in inventory management. At the granular level, it can suggest personalized menu recommendations based on customer preferences and ordering history. POS operator Square recently added 10 generative AI features to its platform, including menu development. “At some point in the future, AI in restaurants could give a high-confidence answer that a certain dish will rock a diner’s world based on data about their preferences, interests, time of day and more,” says Square’s general manager of restaurants. “With this sort of automated personalization, guests could be more likely to enjoy their meals and become repeat customers, and restaurant businesses would be able to provide more customized and fulfilling experiences.” Noodles & Company added a product-recommendation engine on its website and app, driven by machine learning, that has led to a 45% jump in the likelihood of customers adding the suggested items, the fast-casual chain said in November.

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3. Employee Management

AI can not only free up restaurant workers from ho-hum tasks such as taking phone orders, it can also help with a range of workforce-focused to-dos, including scheduling, training and onboarding. Forecasting software, which integrates with multiple POS systems, examines past point-of-sale data and other factors to predict staffing needs. And restaurants such as Little Caesars are using artificial intelligence for employee training and to take any human error out of the equation, as both AI and machine learning are employed to ensure pizza quality. “When we started, lowering the cost of training new employees was a top priority,” tech services company World Wide Technology, which worked with Little Caesars, noted on its website. “When we finished, Little Caesars was able to ditch in-person training and provide it virtually because the app was intuitive and easy to learn.”

4. Loyalty Programs and Marketing

Among the enhancements to Square’s POS is a feature that uses integrated ChatGPT to generate personalized marketing emails, as well as SEO-optimized website copy. Chipotle is employing AI to generate individualized offers as it looks to further build loyalty. “This goes all the way into the cohorts and the journeys that we create,” CEO Brian Niccol said in announcing Chipotle’s second-quarter earnings. “And we believe you do this across our 35 million rewards customers, it now has meaningful scale where the customization results in loyalty that results in, obviously, additional sales.”

5. Fraud Detection

AI embedded into POS systems can detect fraudulent transactions or employee theft more swiftly than a multi-tasking human. POS provider Toast machine learning-powered fraud monitoring to “analyze, detect and block” suspicious transactions that could result in chargebacks (customers disputing a credit card charge), the company said.

As with many industry innovations, AI is one that’s getting its start among the big restaurant chains. But once those giants work out the kinks – and artificial intelligence increasingly finds its place in the omnipresent POS system – it won’t be long before machine learning and predictive technology are as commonplace at independent operations as they are at national chains.