If you learn one thing while covering restaurant software companies, it’s that there are a lot of restaurant software companies. Payment systems, HR, inventory management. Not to mention all of the software applications built on top of those like GrubHub, OpenTable, and a host of others.
The problem is that none of these systems talk to one another, so useful data sits in silos, unable to integrate and deliver holistic, business-wide insights for restaurants. The result can be inefficiencies that cause wastes of human capital and food.
To solve this, Kenneth Kuo founded and is CEO of Ingest.AI, a software layer that plugs into all these disparate restaurant systems, uses machine learning to extract data from all of them, and unifies them into a single platform.
“We clean, classify and aggregate all the data to prep it for our second set of machine learning,” said Kuo.
Because Ingest.AI accesses and combines data from every part of the store, it can then tell a manager what will happen at a restaurant at any given time slice with “upwards of 90 percent accuracy.” This allows the manager to properly order the right amount of food and schedule staff accordingly.
And proper staffing can be a huge headache for a manager, especially in states that have high minimum wage and punitive overtime laws. Ingest.AI can make dynamic staffing suggestions to deliver alerts when workers are nearing overtime, and it can schedule around that or ensure there aren’t too many or too little servers at any given time.
With its predictive analytics, Ingest.AI can also help in the back of the house with proper ordering. It knows when a particular ingredient is running low as well as how long it takes a vendor to make deliveries. With this info, Ingest.AI can automate the ordering so restaurants have enough inventory on hand in anticipation of busy times.
Ingest.AI can also make smaller tweaks throughout the dining experience to increase incremental revenue. It will know, for example, that when parties of six or more people sit down, the first thing they do is order beer. The software will send out a notification to servers to suggest that the first thing they say to customers is “Hello, what kind of beer can we get for you, here’s what we have on tap…”
Restaurant managers aren’t typically data scientists, and connecting data from every aspect of the house all at once could quickly set them adrift in a sea of numbers. But Kuo is cognizant of this, and says he basically wants to answer two questions for the restaurant manager: “1. Did I make money? 2. Am I going to go under in the next week?”
You’d be forgiven for thinking was all too good to be true. A magical AI layer that can talk to and predict just about anything in your restaurant saving you time and money. It has a whiff of software snake oil. But Kuo has bona fides when it comes to artificial intelligence: Prior to his startup, he worked on IBM Watson using natural language to deliver personality insights.
There are two things that stand out for me when thinking about Ingest.AI. First, it has the capacity to replace a lot of other restaurant software startups out there. Ordermark unifies orders from different delivery services and Gebni provides dynamic pricing on menu items — but that’s all they do. Ingest.AI does those bits plus a lot more.
And second, honestly the food industry could be just the beginning for Ingest.AI. Every company I’ve worked for uses multiple software applications (Slack, Salesforce, Braintree, Workday, etc.) that don’t talk directly with one another. If Ingest.AI works as promised, there’s no reason it couldn’t expand beyond restaurants into any vertical.
But that is further down the road. Right now Ingest.AI is bootstrapped, based in Manhattan and was just inducted into the latest Food-X cohort. The company has nearly twenty customers paying anywhere from $150 – $250 per month for the service. Kuo says that it has a few deals in the pipeline and after that they will begin looking for a $1 – $1.5 million round of funding around November of this year.
So sure, there are a lot of restaurant software startups out there, but Ingest.AI seems like one to watch.