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How A.I. Is Redefining the Franchise Industry

Artificial intelligence is paving the way for restaurant technology innovation all across the franchising industry.

While the concept of A.I. has been around for decades, it seems that the technology is just now beginning to saturate our daily lives. When it comes to the franchise industry, major players from Chick-fil-A to Chipotle to Domino's have implemented A.I. in some form, whether to identify food safety issues, scale-up logistics or generate orders via voice assistants. 

A.I. Powered Voice Ordering

It is no secret that Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant are gaining popularity in the home. Now, consumers are demanding the same level of easy, voice-controlled ordering from their fast-food brands. While quick-service restaurants have been leveraging new technologies such as self-order kiosks and drone delivery to streamline store operations, increase orders and enhance customer loyalty, A.I.-powered voice ordering is taking things to a whole new level.

Last June, McDonald's began testing voice-activated drive-thrus and deep-frying robots. The QSR burger chain Sonic also began testing a voice-automated menu in May 2019 through a partnership with Mastercard and kiosk vendor ZIVELO. Domino’s, in its never-ending quest for tech dominance, unveiled a voice recognition app named “DOM”, meant to create a more natural and streamlined way to order pizza over the phone. Other franchisors such as Denny’s and Dunkin' have also deployed bot and voice-enabled ordering. Automating phone orders also reduces the amount of time managers and employees spend on the phone.

As more and more customers come to expect the easiest ordering process possible, franchisors in the QSR and fast casual space are leveraging voice technology as the new frontier.

Keeping Things Safe

Of course, artificial intelligence isn’t just good for quick ordering; brands like Chick-fil-A have begun using a customized artificial intelligence system that provides the company with algorithms to analyze social media posts for potential food safety issues across its system. 

So, what does that mean exactly? Chick-fil-A’s goal was to develop an A.I. framework that could reliably identify keywords, phrases, and customer sentiments from posts to help spot emerging foodborne illness. The program reviews new data every 10 minutes from a range of social platforms, which filters for over 500 keywords (including words like “illness,” “food poisoning,” “vomit,” “throw up,” “barf,” and “nausea”) and then uses Amazon’s natural language processing service to check sentiment and determine legitimacy.

The restaurant chain is also experimenting with computer vision systems that warn employees who’ve been handling raw chicken to wash their hands before they move to other areas of the kitchen. Another A.I.-driven system that instructs team members how to rinse their hands thoroughly, reducing the risk of foodborne illness by up to 80%.

Leveraging the Data

Some franchisors have been able to combine the benefits of A.I.-powered voice-ordering and data gathering to create powerful consumer-facing tools. Chipotle, for example, recently began rolling out the use of human-backed machine learning, which can provide brands with a consumer profile based solely on a customer’s voice, including important demographic information such as age, gender and preferred meal choice. 

Although automated customer service phone systems and chatbots are commonplace among pharmacy, utility, retail and e-commerce companies, Chipotle is one of the foodservice brands starting to utilize the service systemwide. Since Chipotle specializes in customized meals, it makes sense that they would turn to more sophisticated versions of voice assistants to process orders. With each transaction, the A.I. platform learns the idiosyncrasies of how people order and adds it to the brand’s database.

It has been said that every restaurant chain wants to be a tech company now, and with good reason. As tech trends like online ordering and third-party delivery continue to dominate the franchising landscape, A.I. is a logical next step for franchisors trying to stay ahead of the curve.