“Machine learning and automation will go mainstream,” reports Nancy Luna, as a committee of editors at Nation’s Restaurant News weighed in on the debate about what the restaurant industry should expect to see in 2020.

Luna notes that one critical area in innovation will be back-of-the house operations improvements. Computer vision identifies and counts anything visible to the human eye offering unprecedented insights into entire production processes. These operational insights span from frozen or uncooked foods to assembled sandwiches, pizzas and even ready-to-serve products. Machine learning prompts computers to act on incoming information, making critical decisions for staff during restaurant rush periods.

Although inventory barcodes and POS technology have provided operators with information for decades now, individual restaurant operations specifics between these two data points have been something of a black box. Computer vision is filling in gaps providing granular data about production, food waste, service times and employee behavior.

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Luna cites McDonald’s, KFC, Domino’s, TGI Fridays and Sonic Drive-In among brands who are already in the process of tackling ambitious projects driven by AI and machine learning technology.

Beyond offering granular reporting, computer vision provides restaurant insights in real time. Output from machine learning technologies in the form of predictive models are updated live from within the restaurant environment. These data-laden insights enable systems such as PreciTaste’s SmartKDS to make effective decisions that are then communicated to kitchen staff from cameras throughout the restaurant and data points drawn even from outside the four walls.

Widespread adoption is driven in part by rapidly falling costs of IT hardware. Luna also notes that brands like McDonald’s are looking to increase efficiency in the kitchen by using automation technologies that “reduce steps for employees” as labor costs continue to rise. These technologies benefit from controls that tell them when and how to operate. Machine learning is that agent which can instruct automated systems to function independently and economically, ultimately reaching quality, speed and production goals eagerly sought by major global food brands. 

-Al Indig