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Chat-GPTTaco Velvet Taco
The ChatGPTTaco was created by generative AI.

Tech Tracker: Is the restaurant industry ready for generative AI?

From AI that can create new recipes for kitchens to ChatGPT that can generate online ordering portals and social media posts, is AI technology restaurant-ready?

While AI has been one of the biggest trends in the restaurant industry this year, NRN has mostly been tracking how operators put AI voice chat to work in the drive-thru lane and in call centers. But with the rise in prominence of generative AI technology like ChatGPT, there are several more areas of foodservice operations that could be aided – or taken over by – automation, from social media post creation to menu image generation and even menu development.

More and more tech vendors are introducing AI-driven features and capabilities to their turnkey operations. This month, Swipeby introduced Swipeby AI, which allows restaurant operators to automatically generate and respond to social media posts; RestoGPT is a new vendor with the capability of automatically generating an online ordering portal complete with AI-created menu images; and Velvet Taco became the latest restaurant to add a ChatGPT recipe to its menu.

Besides the surge in generative AI tech solutions — many of which are imperfect — this month, Bite Ninja brings its virtual employee technology out from the drive-thru and into the restaurant, and DoorDash introduced updates for restaurants and Dashers following the recent pending lawsuit against New York City’s minimum wage.  

Tech Tracker rounds up what’s happening in the technology sector of the restaurant industry, including news from restaurants, vendors, digital platforms, and third-party delivery companies. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know and why:

AI-generated menus, ordering platforms, and social media posts are here

As various industries begin toying around with generative AI and ChatGPT to varying degrees of success, the question remains: how useful of a tool is AI to restaurants, and are restaurants ready for this technology yet?

First up is Velvet Taco, which introduced the cleverly named ChatGPTaco as an LTO earlier this month. The AI-created recipe is a surf and turf taco topped with flank steak, blackened shrimp, red chile aioli, chimichurri, crispy potatoes, grilled onion, queso fresco, jalapeno, and cilantro on a corn tortilla and is available through July 25. ChatGPT 4 created the menu item (with the creative input of chef Venecia Willis) with knowledge of the brand’s “proprietary taco formula” and available ingredient list in mind. Of course, this isn’t the first or only time ChatGPT has been used to inspire chefs: Israeli chef Tom Aviv used the AI image generator Dall-E to design a menu item at his restaurant Branja in Miami that was inspired by an AI-generated image of a “chocolate mousse inspired by Picasso.”

On the less creative side of operations, AI is also infiltrating the workhorses of the modern restaurant digital tech stack. Direct ordering platform, SwipeBy, just introduced a suite of AI-driven features like automated social media management, and automated post and review response creation, as well as AI-generated targeted marketing through Google (PalM2) and Open AI.

“It's very different than our past features as it allows us to offer business and consulting services to restaurants while remaining a true tech company,” a representative with Swipeby told NRN in an emailed interview. “The value of our new Gen AI tools to the restaurant come also from the vast data we have access to like menu data, discount data, loyalty data, opening data, order history data, etc.”

AI is increasingly being used as a tool to help restaurants kickstart their modern tech stacks. RestoGPT lets you “test drive” a custom-created online ordering portal by inputting your restaurant name, a link to your restaurant’s menu, and a few other key questions. AI will then be able to set up a fully functional online ordering system, complete with payment processing, access to delivery driver fleets, menu management, an AI order and delivery manager, marketing tools, CRM, customer reviews, and POS integration. The idea is to automate and simplify a process that could take a CTO or CIO months to set up.

In test-driving this new tool, we found that once you input your data, the process takes about two hours to complete. Once your generated online ordering portal is ready, you can explore features like a custom menu with AI-generated images, suggested deals and coupons, and ordering capabilities. Unfortunately, we found that the AI itself needs some work: many of the AI-generated menu images looked “off,” like a chopped salad that resembled chopped-up bruschetta, an image of too-purple eggplant rollatini, and images of six-pronged forks.

Like most of these next-generation AI tools, RestoGPT is imperfect and requires human intervention. At this point in the age of the technology, it might be better to use ChatGPT and other generative AI tools as jumping-off points rather than end-to-end services. Human beings should still be used to test out AI-generated recipes, proofread automated social media posts, and photograph images of menu items to avoid the uncanny valley aesthetic of AI images. As these tools get smarter and smarter, however, they will become even more useful for operators down the line.   

Bite Ninja introduces “NinjaQ” remote staffing system

Back in 2021, we first wrote about Bite Ninja’s remote staffing system that allows drive-thru restaurants to outsource drive-thru operations to remote employees. In the age of Zoom conference calls, it seemed like a viable solution during the staffing crisis. But now Bite Ninja is expanding its remote staffing capabilities to other areas of the restaurant with the newly launched NinjaQ remote staffing system.

The smart system can detect staffing levels in a restaurant and knows when to pull outsourced employees from a virtual queue to jump in and virtually work a busy shift at the drive-thru or as a cashier inside the restaurant. Remote workers could jump around from restaurant location to location based on time of day and need.

“The system allows a single remote worker to jump from not only station to station — so from front counter to drive through to the telephone — it also allows them to jump from city to city,” Bite Ninja founder Will Clem said. “It's efficient as you want to be. We use our proprietary customer detection system. It detects when a car arrives in the drive-thru, or when a customer walks up to the front counter, and essentially routes a remote cashier to that station, and they just take the order just like they were in the store. Then, as soon as they're finished taking that order, they go back into the virtual queue to await the next customer.”

Restaurants can choose how they want to pay Ninjas based on how they’re utilized: They could already be salaried employees of the restaurant that want to keep picking up shifts from a remote location like when they go back to college, or they could be part of the remote pool of gig workers that sign up with Bite Ninja.

DoorDash adds customer rewards, customized branding for restaurants

DoorDash announced this month a whole slew of new products, features, and changes coming to the third-party aggregator, including new easier search functions for consumers and flexible earnings for Dashers by time or by offer. However, the features that would most directly affect restaurant operators include new customer rewards and personalized restaurant listing options.

DoorDash is likely keenly aware that many independent restaurants use third-party apps and aggregators as their primary online presence. This allows restaurants to easily toggle on DoorDash rewards to reward repeat customers without having to build out their own rewards program. The new “storefront enhancements” are also a shortcut and alternative to building out an online presence and allows for custom fonts and colors. Operators can also add smart buttons to create synergy between a restaurant’s website and DoorDash listing, including a button that directs customers from a restaurant’s website to their online order page.

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