Chipotle has been implementing more artificial intelligence (AI) into its stores this year in the form of AI-powered voice assistants for phone orders, according to Nation’s Restaurant News. The chain has already implemented the technology into 1,800 locations so far this year, and plans to have the system in remaining U.S. stores by the end of 2019.
The as-yet-unnamed female voice greets customers and takes orders. According to NRN, she “actively listens and makes suggestions when she thinks a customer might have omitted a topping on a bowl or burrito.” Over time, her algorithm learns and can remember more and more complex orders.
Chipotle has actually been quietly testing this technology out since 2018, when it introduced its “voice” to just 10 stores. But so far as AI is concerned, the time to be hush-hush about these initiatives might be coming to an end. Domino’s has been using a chatbot since 2018, an AI-powered system called DOM that also takes phone orders. And ever since McDonald’s acquired Dynamic Yield and started aggressively rolling the company’s tech into its drive-thrus systems (and soon its self-order kiosks), AI has been not a buzzword but the buzzword flying around QSRs and fast casual chains.
Having AI-powered tech in the restaurant has a few advantages. In the case of phone assistants like Chipotle or Domino’s, it can speed up the order process and minimize the amount of time employees have to spend on the phone (assuming the voice assistant can learn and retain complex orders and not need human intervention to process them). AI can also improve how well restaurants can offer more personalized recommendations to customers — that is, ones tailored specifically to that customer and based on everything from a person’s past orders to the weather outside.
What it won’t do, at least in Chipotle’s case, is take away jobs. Nicole West, vice president of digital strategy and product at Chipotle, told NRN that the phone-order system is meant to make the phone order process more convenient and save restaurant managers and employees time.