There’s no denying Artificial Intelligence (AI) is profoundly revamping the restaurant industry.
Companies like Ingest are creating products that are capable of predicting near-exact food and
labor costs, providing customer insights that can boost sales, and simplifying work at every level
of a business’ operation. In fact, this technology is doing the work that a team of data scientists
do, but at a scale that is accessible for most business owners.
But, no matter what any AI aficionado may tell you, there is one aspect of the restaurant industry
that the technology hasn’t conquered—the human touch. Customers want to know where owners
source their foods, and moreover, they want to forge a relationship with the people making and
serving the food.
So how can business owners bridge this gap between AI and the human element of their
business? Here are a few tips:
Use Accurate Predictions and Data Insights to Maximize Community Capital:
It is almost impossible to conceptualize how much AI has influenced humanity’s ability to think
and decide for itself. We share almost everything with technology. From photos on social media
to fitness goals in online forums, we even share our desire to be somewhere else when we ask
Google Maps for directions.
AI has the capability to take all these seemingly stratified data points and come up with conclusions about one’s decision making, and even what they’re interested in. This is what makes companies like Facebook and Google so adept at targeted advertising. In theory, this capability is also why 68 percent of restaurant-goers choose a place to eat based on positive online reviews.
These online platforms will continue to help businesses increase profits by maximizing the reach
of their advertisements long into the future. But, there is an important distinction to be made
between maximizing profits for their own sake, and maximizing profits by way of community
To me, community capital is a value assigned to the amount of trust a community has in a local
business. The essential question the community will ask is: is the business here to support the
community, make a profit off of it, or both? How the community answers this question will
determine how much community capital a business has.
Of course, use AI to extend the reach of your marketing materials showing how your business
provides exactly what your customers want. An easy way to do this is by incorporating chatbots
from companies like GuestFriend into your online platform. Whether that’s a new trendy dish or
a unique experience makes no difference toward this end. The one thing you must keep in mind,
however, is that you are offering a communal space, not simply a profit factory.
Focus on Interior Feel Before Exterior Design
A community space is welcoming, warm, and inviting. Some have cafeteria tables and benches
and woodgrain designs. Others have a long bar and plenty of standing room. However you define
the interior feel of your community space, it needs to have these three elements present.
That brings us back to the distinction between profits and people. There are plenty of new
concepts emerging that utilize technology as a means of reducing human error in production.
Think of companies like Zume Pizza who employ more robots than humans. But, these concepts
often feel stale. They have self-serve options, kiosks that recognize their customers, and some
almost completely utilize the labor of robots in their kitchens.
How would it make you feel to walk into a metal box in order to purchase a hot meal? What if
you only interacted with computers and touchscreens mimicking human actions in that box,
rather than talking to another warm-bodied individual?
The answers you give to these questions say a lot about how you imagine the interior design of
your business, both aesthetically and sociologically. Your customers are already answering these
questions. Maybe it’s time for you to give them some more thought.
Create a Business Founded on a Values:
Some 979 technology pioneers, innovators, developers, business and policy leaders, researchers
and activists were asked similar questions by researchers at PEW in the summer of 2018. Each of
them noted the myriad ways in which AI is distorting the ways humans interact with each other.
However, one solution most could agree on was that AI needs to be utilized as a means of
building a values-based system directed at humanness and the “common good”.
Predictive scheduling may tell you to only schedule a worker on two days per week because of
their numerical productivity. But, if you know that person is struggling to pay rent or bills, it
might be in the best interest of your business to schedule that person for one more shift than your
computer model suggests. Showing your employees that you care about them as people is a
surefire way to make them loyal to you.
Robot chefs and digital kiosks may know how to take an order, but they can’t feel empathy. For
example, if someone is down on their luck, there is no algorithm that will allow the robots to
give them a free meal. On the other hand, a human business owner can sense dejection in the
emotional tone of one’s voice or in their body language. Giving one person a free meal says a lot
about your business culture.
Chiefly, that you’re willing to take care of the people that take care
of you. There is seldom a better marketing campaign than that.