Fast-Food Chains Embrace Robots and AI for Food Prep, Orders, and Service
Fast-food chains like Wendy’s, IHOP, Chipotle, and Sweetgreen are rapidly integrating robots and artificial intelligence (AI) into their operations, transforming the way food is prepared, orders are taken, and service is provided. From kitchen robots creating salads, flipping burgers, and frying tortilla chips to robot servers delivering food to tables and homes, the restaurant industry is embracing automation to streamline processes and cut labor costs, particularly during a period of staff shortages.
One significant development in this automation trend is the use of robot servers, bringing food directly to tables and homes. Additionally, kitchen robots are taking over food preparation tasks such as creating salads, flipping burgers, and frying tortilla chips. AI-powered voice robots are also being employed to take orders at drive-thrus, and menu recommendation engines are suggesting dishes based on customers’ past orders.
These advancements in robotics and AI have not only allowed restaurants to reduce their labor expenses but also aim to boost individual orders through personalized recommendations. However, customers have shown mixed reactions to these changes. Some have welcomed the convenience and efficiency, while others have expressed concerns or dissatisfaction when things don’t go as planned due to AI involvement.
Several fast-food chains have already partnered with technology giants like Google Cloud to leverage their AI capabilities. Wendy’s has introduced voice automation at its drive-thru locations, following the footsteps of McDonald’s and Del Taco. IHOP is working with Google Cloud to provide personalized recommendations to customers who order online. Emphasizing the significance of Google as a preferred partner for foodservice customers, Amy Eschliman, Google’s managing director of Cloud retail industry solutions, highlights the challenge of discovering new products and finding complementary items for consumers.
Chipotle is also experimenting with robots in its operations. They are trialing an automated system developed by Hyphen that uses intelligent dispensers to place toppings on salads in their online orders. Chipotle’s Chief Customer and Technology Officer, Curt Garner, explains that tasks like salad preparation don’t require the same expertise as guacamole or burrito rolling, making them more suited for machines. By delegating these tasks, employees can focus on operating the top makeline or preparing more fresh food.
Sweetgreen, a salad chain, has taken a different approach by acquiring Spyce, a robotic food-prep company. Sweetgreen is leveraging Spyce’s technology to speed up service by preparing salads more quickly. AI is also being employed behind the scenes in areas like inventory management, worker scheduling, and food safety.
While automation offers numerous benefits for the fast-food industry, customers’ experiences with AI involvement have varied. Some have taken to social media platforms to voice their complaints when AI-driven systems have caused errors or disruptions during their orders, highlighting the challenges of balancing efficiency with customer satisfaction.
In conclusion, fast-food chains are increasingly embracing robots and AI to revolutionize food preparation, orders, and service. From robot servers to kitchen automation, these advancements aim to streamline processes, reduce labor costs, and enhance revenue through personalized recommendations. However, customer reactions have been mixed, emphasizing the importance of finding the right balance between automation and human involvement to ensure a positive dining experience.