3 Tips for Transforming Your Restaurant’s Workforce with Artificial Intelligence

Contrary to public opinion, artificial intelligence (AI) can help your employees do their jobs better. Rather than viewing AI-based automation as a replacement for their workforce, brands like Starbucks are rethinking the division of labor to allow employees to focus more on the customer experience. Here are 3 tips to keep in mind as you transform your workforce with artificial intelligence-based technology:

1 – Hire Tech-Savvy Leaders

Knowing when to innovate, and in which areas of your business, is key to getting everyone in your restaurant aligned with your AI-focused goals. Hiring executives with a technology background is one way to streamline this process, especially since getting your employees on board with artificial intelligence will be difficult if your leadership team is not fully aware of the pros and cons of their decisions. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, for example, has worked as a systems engineer at IBM, in leadership roles at Microsoft, and as CEO of Juniper Networks.

Aaron Allen, the founder of a restaurant consulting firm, mentioned in an interview with CIO Dive that more restaurants are factoring technology-related acquisitions experience into their CIO hiring criteria as well. McDonald’s acquisitions of artificial intelligence startups Dynamic Yield and Apprente are driving this mindset, challenging chief information officers from other restaurants to increase their companies’ spending on AI.

2 – Make Sure Your Restaurant’s Existing Processes Align with Your Goals for AI

Johnson wrote a LinkedIn article in October about AI helping to nurture people, explaining the paradox between technology’s potential to create both loneliness and human connection. While people can immerse themselves in a digital environment to tune out the world, they can also use technology to free up time for face-to-face interaction. With the Tryer Center, Starbucks is doing the latter. According to Johnson, the 20,000 square foot facility focuses on building cross-functional teams to “bring an idea into action in 100 days.” Most importantly, the center’s Cold Pop station and engineering lab serve the same objective as the company’s plan for AI: To create a culture of innovation through continuous improvement.

The Cold Pop station, for instance, allows employees to test new drinks in a controlled environment where they can collaborate with partners from other stores. The engineering center’s 3D printer helped Starbucks make 10 design improvements to their new brewing system in just 30 days by allowing faster prototyping and testing. After only 6 months, Starbucks has implemented over 24 of the Tryer Center’s 130 projects into its stores, establishing a process they can transfer to developing and testing AI technologies as well.

3 – Use AI to Drive Customer Satisfaction and Empower Your Team

Especially if employees do not read customers correctly, upselling can be a frustrating experience. Without AI, they lack access to customers’ prior purchases, making menu suggestions mere guesswork. Starbucks launched its Deep Brew platform in 2017, representing the company’s first step into artificial intelligence. This platform makes personalized recommendations that appear on the order screen, giving employees insights into customers’ ingredient preferences and price awareness. For example, if a vegetarian walks into a Starbucks, Deep Brew software will be able to tell from biometric recognition and purchase history that they only like baked goods and do not want high priced items, so it will suggest a scone as an upsell rather than the bacon and egg sandwich that employees are typically encouraged to offer.

ConverseNow, one of PAR’s integration partners, has context-aware artificial intelligence that uses verbosity—the number of words a customer or employee uses when giving or taking an order—as a guide for how its software responds. For example, if a customer’s verbosity is low, the system may prompt employees to handle an order more quickly, reducing friction between employees and customers.

To read more about the influence of AI in the restaurant industry, check out this blog post on drive-thru technology.

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