Artificial intelligence (AI) is one phrase we’re going to hear a lot more of in the restaurant industry from now on. McDonald’s and KFC are already experimenting with it, and this week, Starbucks said the technology is a key piece of the company’s overall digital strategy moving forward.
On an investor call, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson highlighted the company’s Deep Brew initiative, which will be a major area of focus in 2020. And as Johnson explained in a LinkedIn post recently, Deep Brew involves machine learning technologies that will improve back-of-house elements like inventory management and employee scheduling. Johnson said the technology will also power better recommendations and upsell offers to customers via the Starbucks mobile app. “Deep Brew solutions will support our partners in many ways such as sequencing orders, anticipating equipment maintenance, streamlining supply chain logistics, and more,” he wrote in the post.
On this week’s investor call, Johnson called Deep Brew a “key differentiator” for the future and said it will free up time for employees to focus on higher-quality interactions with customers.
That emphasis on customer service has been a major selling point from restaurants as they automate and digitize more of their businesses. From the aforementioned McDonald’s to fast-casual chain Sweetgreen, which just opened a digital-centric store in Manhattan, companies are claiming technologies like AI and robotics won’t replace workers’ jobs, but instead redeploy where workers spend their time and energy.
Certainly, Starbucks will have the opportunity to test this idea out as it builds out its Starbucks Now stores in China, which are locations that focus on digital pickup and delivery orders and where much of the order, pay, and pickup process is automated. The company opened its first Now location in July in Beijing. On the investor call, Johnson said the company will open more of these stores in China’s “top-tier cities” in 2020. Starbucks also has a location planned for NYC.