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AI is driving change in restaurant industry

Some restaurants are even trying out virtual staff who take customer orders over Zoom.
Leanpath display showing waste dashboard
Posted at 8:12 PM, May 21, 2024

From major brands to regional favorites, the food at the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago is always a topic of conversation.

“All the food, all the novelties — I mean, I have eaten meat salmon today, pea sausages, soya beef,” said attendee Gerardo Martinez.

But this year artificial intelligence is also on the menu, as exhibitors make the case for a full embrace.

Soundhound has a voice AI technology that processes speech like the human brain. For restaurants this can help with ordering and optimization in real time. “Think automating drive-thru order order-taking, automating phone reception and taking questions,” SoundHound SVP of sales Ben Bellettini said.

Some restaurants are even trying out virtual staff who take customer orders over Zoom.

Chi Zhang is the founder of Happy Cashier — a company that employs workers from overseas to help small business owners streamline their operation.

“We let our customer focus on what they really need to focus on, which is food quality and hospitality,” he said.

Generative AI is also being used to help food service providers become more sustainable.

Leanpath reduces waste by cutting food-production costs through in-kitchen monitoring and data analytics.

“We’ve created an intelligent platform that combines artificial intelligence with culinary intelligence with a singular focus, which is to drive action from data and prevent food waste in the kitchen,” Leanpath CEO Andrew Shakman said.

Exterior of a Wendy's restaurant.

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And it wouldn’t be a show without robots.

Richtech Robotics was on the floor showing off "Adam," its coffee-slinging barista powered by artificial intelligence.

The company emphasizes the human connection of its product.

“While he’s making his drink, he uses AI to be able to communicate with guests,” Richtech Robotics director of marketing Timothy Tanksley said. “He can tell jokes. You can ask him relationship advice. So he’s really bringing smiles across the country.”

Attendees got a taste of what’s new, what’s next, and what’s unknown as the industry evolves.

“I have no idea where the restaurant industry is going,” celebrity chef Rick Bayless said. “All I can do is get up every morning and tackle what’s in front of me and hope that we’re staying up with whatever the trends are or whatever the likes and dislikes of our audience is — that we will be right there with them.”