Automation and Your Restaurant: is AI here to stay in 2024?
Every year has its big tech trends. Cryptocurrency, NFTs, virtual reality – all have had their time in the spotlight over the last few years, with varying degrees of staying power and relevance. 2023 was no different, with Microsoft dubbing it the ‘Year of AI’ after the meteoric rise of AI-powered platforms and tools led to industry leaders like ChatGPT and OpenAI becoming household names by the end of the year.
But is AI here to stay? And does it have any tangible, practical applications in the restaurant and hospitality sector?
Well, the automation revolution in restaurants began long before 2023. In a 2021 survey of over 2,000 restaurants, 50% of restaurants planned to implement automation tech into their operations and management. In the UK, rising costs of food and a global labour shortage have been affecting the hospitality sector for several years and AI-powered tech has been a lifeline for many restaurants trying to do more with less. Whether it’s automating admin, managing reservations, or predicting weekly bookings, it’s clear that restaurateurs can and have been benefitting from adopting artificial intelligence into their business operations.
Restaurant booking systems and inventory management with AI
When we talk about AI in restaurants, we’re not talking about burger-flipping robots or mechanical waiters. In 2024, the use of AI tools is usually unnoticeable to diners, instead working in the background to streamline complex parts of restaurant management.
Customer demand and inventory stock are two of the most important things to understand when running any successful restaurant. Avoiding excess stock while keeping a larger menu fully available is an unenviable challenge, and managers often need to spend valuable time forecasting weekly covers and monthly takings. Food data analytics services like TheFork’s statistics platform can provide up to 15 months of historical reservations data for your restaurant and reveal weekly patterns and occupancy rates. Tools like Intellify’s AI-powered Inventory Management can use historical sales data and predict customer demand with powerful accuracy, reducing over-purchasing without compromising on menu availability.
Similarly, restaurants can automate large parts of their digital customer interactions – including taking reservations, managing bookings during busy periods, and proactively highlighting opportunities for promotions during quieter periods. TheFork offers simple promotional management within its booking platform, including tailored offers and suggested discounts to drive additional covers. Removing this admin burden from staff and managers can cut down on hundreds of hours of work per month, reducing labour costs and freeing up staff to focus on what they do best – providing an unforgettable dining experience.
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The big one: ChatGPT
Heading into 2024, OpenAI’s ChatGPT is the most well-known and widely used AI tool. It’s often seen as a copywriting machine, but it can be harnessed by restaurant managers to support with a variety of tasks. As a research assistant, ChatGPT can collate and summarise a huge amount of information online, allowing for faster discovery of restaurant and dining trends, industry news, and new ways of working. For larger restaurant groups that receive hundreds of reviews per week, ChatGPT can quickly read and provide a summary of the most frequent comments and feedback, saving time and effort when assessing your restaurants’ experience and performance amongst diners.
ChatGPT is also a capable strategic partner, able to advise on business decisions and even create entire marketing strategies from just a few prompts. However, OpenAI does provide a disclaimer on ChatGPT’s accuracy, as the tool can often confuse facts slightly and occasionally miss out on important details. But when used as a tool for ideation, brainstorming, and reviewing huge amounts of information, it can easily become a vital part of your everyday management.
The human touch
Ultimately, AI can only do so much. It can’t replace the perfectionism and creativity of your chefs, the personability and charisma of your waitstaff, or the problem-solving and leadership of a good restaurant manager. But as a tool to reduce workload, AI can help you focus on creating a genuine connection with your guests and a truly unforgettable dining experience.