5 Quick-Serve Restaurant Brands Using Artificial Intelligence to Change the Way We Eat

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The type of ultra-personal service that was once offered by waiters at mom-and-pop diners is now being duplicated by highly-sophisticated computer algorithms, as many of the country’s largest restaurant chains start investing more in artificial intelligence technology.

In addition to using big data to solve inventory problems, these restaurants are using AI to personalize menus and create the type of intelligent interactions that customers really want. According to the market intelligence firm Tractica, revenue from AI will reach $36.8 billion by 2025, as businesses in nearly every industry start using AI to position themselves in a crowded marketplace.

Here are five examples of ways that restaurants are already using AI to improve customer interactions and streamline the ordering process.

1. Starbucks: Using data-driven AI to improve mobile ordering
Starbucks is using AI to power its popular mobile apps. According to Adweek, the company is building a virtual assistant, similar to Apple’s Siri, that will enable consumers to place voice orders by talking to a “virtual barista” within the mobile app. Once an order has been placed verbally, the AI bot will be able to recommend similar products and offers based on the consumer data its already collected—for example, people who order iced coffees after noon might be more likely to also want pastries—and then send the order to be made and picked up at a nearby store. Given that more than eight million Starbucks customers already utilize mobile payments through the company’s app, and one-third choose to order before they arrive at Starbucks, the company’s new “virtual barista” is expected to be very popular when it debuts.

2. Taco Bell: Placing orders directly through Slack
Taco Bell’s millennial customer base is primed and ready for an AI revolution. The company made it easier for these consumers to place online orders by introducing its own ordering tool integrated with Slack in April of 2016. Built by the Deutsch agency using Wit.ai, a service for building software that can understand and respond to human language, “TacoBot” allows people to select items from their own local Taco Bell menus and place orders without leaving the Slack platform. TacoBot was first released in private beta to young, tech-savvy companies like Thought Catalog, Giphy, Fullscreen and FoodBeast when it debuted last year. It leverages AI for natural language processing—a key element, if the company wants its ordered tool to be viewed as “hip” and “cool”—with features for both group and individual ordering.

3. McDonald’s: Integrating cognitive capabilities into business processes
Artificial intelligence is a natural fit for McDonald’s. While the fast food giant has yet to replace human workers with robots, it has already started bringing cognitive technology to the drive-thru window. During a keynote speech last year, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that one of the company’s partners was working with McDonald’s on an app that takes advantage of Microsoft’s cognitive technology to convert drive-thru orders into text. Once ordered have been converted, they can then be fed into an integrated POS system for faster processing. McDonald’s is said to be using Microsoft’s speech algorithm to clean up the audio quality of drive-thru orders, which is ultimately necessary to accurately turn audio into text.

4. Burger King: Utilizing chat as a “transactional medium”
Burger King has been using AI technology since 2015, when the company announced a home delivery service in India. The company partnered with global technology firms like LimeTray, FastOx and Grab to implement an e-ordering option and to allow customers to “pre-book” certain menu items online. In 2016, the global fast food giant also entered into a partnership with a chat-based AI platform called Niki.ai to allow customers to place orders verbally by chatting with an AI bot. In addition to building the order and taking the customer’s address, the AI bot can recommend special offers on the orders placed or cashback deals to customers who might not otherwise know that these discounts are available.

5. Dunkin’ Donuts: Driving loyalty through targeted promotions
Dunkin’ Donuts is placing a big bet on data analytics in 2017. The global donut and coffeehouse chain is working with the big data firm Splunk to better use the data it collects through its consumer-facing mobile app to predict in-store traffic patterns, improve customer service, and foster more brand loyalty. The company’s new app serves as a mobile wallet and allows mobile ordering with coupons. Based on the intelligence it gathers, Dunkin’ is better positioned to target customers with highly-relevant promotions and coupons that are actually likely to get redeemed. Big data is also helping Dunkin’ plan ahead for staffing and inventory shortages, so individual stores are never caught off guard with limited amounts of their most popular menu items.

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.



Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.