Artificial Intelligence: Personal Connections
You may have seen headlines touting the future of artificial intelligence (AI), which refers to the ability for computer systems to process large amounts of data and use this information to help make decisions. In recent years, this innovative technology has increased in popularity, and AI in the food and beverages market is predicted to have a compound annual growth rate of 65.3 percent between 2019 and 2024, according to research by Mordor Intelligence.
“The power of AI is really data,” says Mahi de Silva, the CEO and co-founder of Amplify.ai, a platform for conversational commerce. By setting up simple strategies to gather more data, you can analyze different aspects of your restaurant’s past performance. You can also make predictions for the coming weeks and months, helping you plan everything from food orders to staff needs and scheduling details. Here’s a look at how to implement low-cost AI tactics and increase profits.
1. Reach out to passersby. “I didn’t have a big budget by any means, but I knew I wanted to focus on mobile marketing,” says Chris Vlasopoulos, owner of the Levittown, New York-based Calda Pizzeria chain. “I found a mobile marketing platform called GettinLocal that is specifically designed to support brick-and-mortar businesses locally.” In January 2018, Vlasopoulos started using AI to market to all three of his Long Island, New York locations. “Using the geo-fencing feature of this platform, I can create a promotion and market to a specific type of customer,” Vlasopoulos says. He runs a Student Special, which gives customers with a student ID a discount. With geo-fencing, he can spend a few minutes and create awareness to all males and females between the ages of 13 and 22 years old within two miles of each location.
“The AI on the platform I’m using targets new and existing customers based on the age, gender, shopping preference and keyword search that I set myself,” Vlasopoulos says. “It then ‘learns’ the preferences of the consumers and matches them with the pizza specials or other promotions I’m offering.” Since he first started using AI, Vlasopoulos has seen an increase of about 10 percent a day consistently at all three restaurants.
2. Spot loyal customers. An AI-based platform can collect information on customers’ orders. You might be able to see what type of meals a diner tends to request, how often and what the selling price is. “It’s much more powerful than a customer list,” de Silva says. The data gathered could include the customers’ preferences, such as vegetarian or gluten-free. Analyzing the statistics can help you spot frequent clients and understand what they like. You can then send them specific promotions, like a special on a meatless pie, or set up a reward program that caters to their preferences. If they visit once a week, they might appreciate a loyalty deal that gives them a free drink or meal after five purchases.
3. Predict demand. An AI system can collect order information and then use the data to predict what to expect in terms of customers and food sales in the coming week or two. “Such forecasts help the pizzeria to stock up food and other raw materials at an optimal level,” says Aparajeeta Das, founder of ClouDhiti, which offers business intelligence analytics as a service for small and medium-sized businesses. Purchasing ingredients that align with the upcoming demand can enable the place to reduce waste and save on food costs. Instead of investing in an entire AI infrastructure, consider signing up for AI subscription-based services. ClouDhiti provides dashboards that extensively use AI strategies, and customers only pay on a per dashboard basis per month. The arrangement can provide an affordable way to test out an AI tool such as demand forecast for several months, and then look back to evaluate the benefits.
4. Reduce delivery times. If your place offers a delivery service, AI-based technology can sort through the available routes at a certain time of day. “The AI system showcases the optimal routes that drivers can take,” Das says. By arriving to each location faster, drivers can reduce their travel time, lowering the cost of fuel and increasing the number of pizzas they can deliver during a shift. The increase in efficiency could lead to higher revenue, especially during peak meal times and rush hours.
5. Streamline scheduling. Signing up for a service that uses AI to gather information on employees and upcoming events can help you fine tune schedules. The technology pulls data on past orders and other factors, such as weather, to predict how many staff members you’ll need at different times during the upcoming weeks. It can then match the staff needs with employees’ preferences for timing and their qualifications. The whole setup can reduce the time needed to create a schedule from hours to minutes or even seconds. Employees that have a schedule that aligns with their availability and the restaurant’s customer flow are likely to be happier. “Employee-centric technology can help retain employees over time,” says Atif Siddiqi, CEO of Branch, a mobile-first technology that provides schedule and financial flexibility for hourly employees. “And it can reduce the amount spent on overtime.”
6. Gather personalized feedback. AI platforms offer the chance to have one-on-one conversations with customers and gather data to see patterns and make needed changes. “After consumers order a pizza, you have their phone number and can send them a message to start that conversation,” de Silva says. The message could invite them to take a survey about their experience. You might decide to offer an incentive, such as a discount or free dessert with a purchase, for filling out the form. “That quantitative data is really valuable,” de Silva says. “It starts to give you a view into where you could improve, the general sentiment of the customers of your restaurant and the quality of the experience you’re providing.”
Rachel Hartman is a freelance writer based in Miami.