Food Forecaster Chipotle Tests AI For Predicting Customer Demand

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List of AI tools used to improve fast food services

The ability to predict customer demand could make fast food even faster.

What's new: The Mexican-themed Chipotle restaurant chain is testing AI tools that forecast demand, monitor ingredients, and ensure that workers fill orders correctly, according to QSR Magazine, a restaurant trade publication.

How it works: Eight Chipotle locations in California will employ tools from New York-based startup PreciTaste, which offers systems designed to boost efficiency in restaurants, bakeries, and food manufacturers. On the AI menu:

  • A demand-prediction system uses computer vision to estimate foot and vehicle traffic. Combined with historical sales data, the system predicts which menu items, and how many of each, the restaurant will need to prepare. A screen display keeps kitchen staff informed.
  • Other cameras track ingredient supplies and determine when menu items have sat long enough to lose their freshness. Cameras check items that go into a customer’s bag against the order. Workers receive visual and audio alerts if things go awry.
  • Still other cameras monitor the drive-thru lane for traffic spikes. It alerts employees when they can prevent congestion by directing vehicles to park.
  • Managers can monitor a facility’s performance via an online dashboard.

Behind the news: The fast-food industry’s focus on efficiency has made it a proving ground for a variety of AI applications.

  • Checkers, a chain in the southern United States, plans to deploy a speech recognition system that will take orders at 250 of its locations by the end of 2022.
  • In 2021, Israel-based Hyper-Robotics launched a pizza restaurant, approximately the size and shape of a shipping container, that automatically takes orders, cooks, assembles, and packages food.
  • Restaurants including White Castle, Jack in the Box, and Panera use robots from Miso Robotics to flip hamburgers, fry chicken wings, and the like.

Why it matters: Fast-food outlets in the U.S. are facing historic shortages of labor — a ripe market for startups that aim to automate food prep. The captains of fast-food have taken notice: PreciTaste counts the CEOs of McDonald’s, Burger King, and Shake Shack among its investors.

We're thinking: It’s good to see industrial AI used to help employees do their work better rather than to do it for them. Perhaps increasingly automated eateries will spur competition to emphasize the human touch.


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