Up until now, AI implementation in restaurants has mostly referred to robot automation like drive-thru and phonebank AI. But the next generation of artificial intelligence that undoubtedly has the whole world buzzing is generative AI. And while platforms like OpenAI and tools like ChatGPT have been gaining attention mainly in the art and media spheres for AI-written news articles or AI-created digital paintings, restaurants should also be paying attention.
First of all, what is generative AI and what is the difference between “regular” AI and this new generation of artificial intelligence? Whereas traditional machine learning works as a series of programmed inputs and outputs, generative AI can create content on its own. For example, you can ask ChatGPT to write you a poem about a restaurant run by unicorns or you can ask an AI image generator to create a painting of a five-star restaurant run by unicorns. To make an example that’s more relevant to restaurants, you could ask an AI generator to create a menu for your unicorn restaurant.
“AI is going to impact every industry, including hospitality and there are a lot of possibilities with how you can use it,” strategic futurist Dr. Mark van Rijmenam said. “The restaurant industry is historically pretty conservative and is usually not the first to embrace new digital technologies […] the future of how we will use AI in the industry is going to be a lot more personalized […] even if you take the human out of the loop.”
It's true that many forward-thinking movers and shakers in the restaurant industry have criticized foodservice for being behind on technology, so we might be a few steps ahead of the problem-solving techniques operators are using now. Even so, we’re starting to see stirrings of how generative AI could impact restaurants. For example, Dall-E — a text to image generator from OpenAI — recently partnered with Israeli chef Tom Aviv who used the AI image generator to design the menu and décor at his first U.S. restaurant, Branja in Miami. The prompt he gave the AI generator here was “a chocolate mousse inspired by Picasso.”
Expect to see more AI-inspired menus and décor moving forward, Marbet Lewis, founding attorney for hospitality and restaurant industry law firm, Spiritus Law, said.
“Creating menu concepts and pairings is currently all done by humans, but I think that could eventually be replaced by AI technology,” Lewis said. “AI is going to be able to help with branding, creating food and drink pairing scenarios, and developing new ideas for business owners.”
Although Chef Aviv’s AI-inspired menu and restaurant concept appears to be a one-off scenario (for now), there are plenty of ways generative AI can provide content and insight to ease labor challenges. For example, ClearCogs — a predictive analysis food prep forecasting systems for restaurant operators — has been testing out capabilities with ChatGPT to bring its predictive analytics to the next level. Though it’s in beta mode right now, eventually all ClearCogs partners will be able to hook up their POS system to the ChatGPT and ask AI something like, ‘what are the odds that we’ll run out of beef tomorrow?’ Using inputs like past store data, ChatGPT will be able to spit out a predictive analysis.
“You can have a conversation with it—ask the AI to give you a rundown on yesterday and it might come to you and says these were your sales, here’s what sold the best, here’s the chance you might run out, here are the tickets that were over $500,” Matt Wampler, cofounder and CEO of ClearCogs said. “Ultimately, we'd like to build your AI Operations Manager. You can set push notifications that might say something like ‘there’s a 50% chance you’ll run out of this ingredient tomorrow, do you want to make a transfer?’”
Although the technology is still in its infancy stages, Wampler and his business partner Osayanmo Osarenkhoe said that eventually it might be able to replace a CFO or COO position. It can analyze data and come up with creative ideas and suggestions, just like a real person would.
“You can ask ChatGPT, ‘if the price of ham goes up next week, what will that do to my profitability?’ and it connects the dots of knowing you’re going to probably use 40 pounds of ham next week and your price is this, so this will be your new price,” Wampler said. “You can then ask it how to offset that price increase, and it’ll tell you to raise prices by 19 cents for this item or 12 cents for this one. Restaurants do this all the time, but it might take them three hours to find the information.”
ChatGPT is not just adept at crunching numbers though: AI can also take a customer-facing position within a company. Like ClearCogs, Chatmeter — a brand reputation management platform — has been utilizing AI as an analytics tool before the rise of generative AI.
Chatmeter uses AI to “listen to” and analyze conversations about your brand on social media and review websites, including Google, Facebook, Yelp etc. with capabilities of spotting problem areas and ranking restaurant locations from user experiences. From there, the company can use those analytics to take action like responding to reviews. However, with the new generative AI features, Chatmeter will be able to create content like written responses to reviews.
“We’re creating entirely new content, based off of 10s of millions of review responses [that we fed to the AI],” Cynthia Sener, president of the go to market for Chatmeter, said. “We’re using that for adaptive learning, allowing the machine to learn on its own. […] We have a proprietary ChatMeter dictionary that’s designed for specific experiences within our core industries, including restaurants and retail. Essentially, we have created restaurant sentiment AI.”
Sener reiterated that brands need to evolve and become more reliable in their responses to guests, and AI can be utilized to speed up that process, whereas it might take hours to find individual guest reviews and respond to them manually.
Another way that generative AI is helping companies to evolve and respond to guest needs is through accessibility. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act makes certain accessibility requirements for making websites available to people with blindness, deafness, or have other physical or mental limitations, oftentimes company websites are not compliant. Equally AI is a company that utilizes AI to analyze company websites and figure out where they are not in compliance with federal law and give solutions for fixing the issue. Where ChatGPT comes into play is to simplify the HTML solutions for web developers and teach users how to fix any digital accessibility issues, almost like a computer programming teacher combined with a digital personal assistant, Equally AI cofounder and CEO Ran Ronen said.
“The food business is getting hit with the most accessibility lawsuits in the U.S.,” Ronen said. “It is more affordable to make your website accessible using AI [than to hire an outside expert]. We are also to slowly build a much better experience for all types of users, make sure the website is compatible with most screen readers, etc.”
Website accessibility, menu design, operations, and customer service are just the tip of the iceberg of what this next generation of AI will be able to do for the hospitality industry in the future.
“I think AI will continue to develop and have a major role for humans,” Dr. van Rijmenam said. “The game-changer will be how well we use the AI. If you can’t ask the right questions or provide the right prompts for these image and text generators, then you’ll never get a good answer […] In the end, AI is just a tool and it’s not the holy grail that will replace everything and all workers.”
Contact Joanna at [email protected]