October 18, 2023

AI on the menu: Getting started

Two employees at a restaurant bar looking at an iPad

The first step towards implementing AI in your restaurant is to understand the problem you want to solve and identify what success looks like. This will help define your business and customer needs. It also helps you determine how much you can invest in terms of resources and effort. All of this will help determine how robust a solution you need and can afford. 

What are your business bottlenecks? What part of your business would you like to improve? What’s keeping you and your employees from delivering the best customer experience? Whether it's optimizing your supply chain and lowering food costs, improving service speed and accuracy, or promoting your concept over the competition, chances are there’s an AI solution available. 

Learn how AI can help and how others are using it

Following market leaders in and outside of the restaurant industry can provide examples of how others are using AI to solve problems similar to yours. Trade publications and organizations can be a source of those case studies and often will provide information about AI solution providers who are sponsors or supplier members. You also can do your own research using online search terms and phrases that define your problem and include terms like “AI” or “voice recognition.”  You can even start with a broad term such as “AI restaurant technology” and refine your search from there. 

It also is helpful to look outside the restaurant industry and keep abreast of what technologies the Big Tech companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon are developing and launching to get a wider view of AI innovation. 

Identify requirements and possible AI solutions

As you become familiar with AI technology, you will be able to understand what types of AI solutions can potentially solve your problem. This is also when you can begin to figure out what you need from a functional and technical perspective. Those requirements will define what it must do (like be able to recognize various voices in an outdoor environment or have multiple simultaneous users) and what systems it must work with (such as a particular POS software). 

While it’s important for an AI solution to be able to address your problem, it’s equally important that it works with your existing systems and technologies so that AI adoption is seamless and not disruptive. Knowing that information before you begin to seek out AI solutions will help you ask the right questions to find the right partner in your AI journey.  

Shop for solution providers

As you become familiar with AI technology, you will be able to understand what types of AI solutions can potentially solve your problem. Use that information, combined with the requirements you determined earlier to develop a shortlist of providers who offer AI solutions relevant to your needs. Review their websites and case studies to confirm a possible fit and then meet with them to discuss your specific needs and vision. Understanding the capabilities and limitations of these technologies will enable you to make informed decisions and select the most suitable AI solutions for your needs.

AI blueprint

Now that you have your requirements and a partner, the next step is to work with that provider to develop an AI blueprint. It will outline the step-by-step process of integrating AI into your restaurant operations. It includes identifying the sources for the data AI will rely on to work, selecting and installing AI tools, defining success metrics, and establishing a feedback loop for continuous improvement. By following a structured approach, you can ensure that your AI initiatives align with your business objectives and deliver tangible results.

Other considerations: Internal buy-in and support, legalities

Highlight the potential cost savings, operational efficiencies, and improved customer experiences that AI can bring to your restaurant. Involve key stakeholders in the decision-making process and address any concerns or misconceptions they may have. They might have valuable input. 

Ensure that you comply with data protection regulations and have robust security measures in place to safeguard customer information. You might want to seek legal advice to understand the implications of using AI in your restaurant (especially safeguarding customer data and navigating permissions) and ensure that you are in full compliance with relevant laws and regulations.
By following a structured approach, understanding the problem, and selecting the right AI technologies, you can revolutionize your restaurant operations. Remember to address internal buy-in, legal considerations, and evangelize AI both internally and externally. With the right mindset and a clear roadmap, your restaurant can thrive in the era of AI.

Ready to take your restaurant to the next level? Download the free eBook, "Serving up Better Results: A Guide to Help Restaurant Leadership Learn More about AI and Where it Fits for Their Organization." 

Discover more about how AI can revolutionize your restaurant operations, enhance customer experiences, and boost your bottom line. Whether you're a small café or a large chain, this eBook can provide valuable insights and practical strategies tailored specifically for the restaurant industry.

Checklist for Successful AI Integration 

Successfully integrating AI into your restaurant starts with the decision to embrace the potential of AI followed by a series of necessary steps that ensure your AI plan solves the right problem with the right level of technology. Below is a checklist to help set your AI journey up for success.    

  1. Define the problem to solve and what success looks like. Knowing the business problem and understanding customer needs determines the solutions needed. 
  2. Learn what AI is and its potential: Gain a clear understanding of AI and how it can benefit your restaurant. Learn about AI trends within restaurant industry by reading the trades to understand how others are using AI.
  3. Develop an AI strategy and requirements: Identify where and how AI can add value to your restaurant. Understand the problems AI could solve for your restaurant and plan accordingly. Be sure to include relevant stakeholders in IT and Legal to gain their buy-in and input. 
  4. Review and select suitable AI technologies to focus on: Work with your internal technology leads to identify the most suitable AI technologies that match your restaurant's needs. 
  5. Meet with AI vendors to understand their capabilities: Partner with vendors who have proven AI expertise in the food industry and who can provide scalable solutions that work with your existing systems.
  6. Create an AI blueprint or deployment process: Working with your AI partners and internal technology stakeholder Define the scope of the AI technology in your restaurant and plan a step-by-step implementation approach.
  7. Train your staff: Ensure your staff is well-trained to use AI-based systems. Create an effective training plan tailored to their abilities.
  8. Ongoing optimization and updates: Keep your AI systems updated and optimized to improve performance and enhance features.
  9. Measure AI impact: Regularly measure and analyze the impact of AI on your operations and customer experience.
  10. Keep up with AI trends to keep learning: Stay updated with the latest AI trends in the restaurant industry to maintain your competitive edge. Embrace continuous learning and evolution to stay ahead in the ever-changing AI landscape.
Remember, the journey of adopting AI is continuous and involves learning, evolution, and embracing innovation.


Sign-up for weekly recaps of the latest Tech Month content.

Supported by
  • Sage exists to knock down barriers so everyone can thrive, starting with the millions of Small and Mid-Sized Businesses served by us, our partners and accountants. Customers trust our finance, HR and payroll software to make work and money flow. By digitizing business processes and relationships with customers, suppliers, employees, banks and governments, our digital network connects SMBs, removing friction and delivering insights. Knocking down barriers also means we use our time, technology and experience to tackle digital inequality, economic inequality and the climate crisis.
    Learn more