Danny Meyer Talked About AI Potential in the Restaurant Industry

X (Twitter) // @dhmeyer

At NYC TechWeek, Danny Meyer, the founder of Union Square Hospitality Group, and Rob Thomas, IBM’s Senior Vice President of Software, explored the potential of AI in the restaurant industry. The conversation exuded optimism, in contrast to the typical skepticism surrounding AI discussions. Thomas shared insights from testing Automated Order Taking technology in McDonald’s drive-thrus worldwide, emphasizing its potential impact on labor, efficiency, and customization.

Combining AI and Human Hospitality

Meyer highlighted three areas where AI can benefit food service businesses. He said it could help the hiring processes, enhance efficiency through data-driven inventory management, and improve customer interactions. He pointed out that AI can streamline hiring by helping restaurants identify qualified candidates. This would also allow potential employees to understand what the hiring company seeks. According to him, in the back office, AI can use diners’ ordering data to optimize inventory and simplify the operational processes.

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Meyers pointed out that front-of-house interactions that are traditionally challenging can also be improved by AI. He noted that AI can help employees manage tasks like taking orders through headsets, enabling them to focus on the human aspects of hospitality. He debunked the notion that AI is impersonal, asserting that great technology should enhance, not replace, human touch.

AI Has Its Limits

Meyer acknowledged that AI has limits as it can’t make customers feel seen in the same way as human interaction, like making eye contact and smiling. His early involvement with OpenTable in the ’90s opened his eyes to the potential of technology in restaurant operations. Currently, Union Square Hospitality Group utilizes 7shifts software for employee scheduling and employs three reservation platforms, namely OpenTable, Resy, and SevenRooms.

Thomas emphasized the importance of people beyond order placement, highlighting the need for reliable individuals to accurately take orders. IBM’s AOT, tested in 10 Chicago McDonald’s locations, achieved an impressive 80% accuracy in drive-thru orders. There’s even speculation that AI could track license plates in drive-thrus to suggest and upsell orders for repeat customers. Additionally, Meyer revealed that USHG plans to introduce contactless payment, allowing diners to leave seamlessly after a meal, similar to exiting a rideshare. The move is aimed at eliminating the common table-clearing prompt.