Tech Trends is our newest series which we will be chronicling the retail and foodservice technology that is reshaping our daily habits.

ChatGPT and similar Artificial Intelligence programs have taken the world by storm and are writing thesis papers, creating art, and taking over your favorite restaurant and grocery store. This technology is still new and unproven, yet you may have already experienced it the last time you went to the drive-thru. There will be discussion about the impact this technology will have on jobs and the future of human expression. The question at the top of mind for restaurants and retailers; will it even work? Some companies believe so and have doubled down on partnerships while others wait and watch.

Customer Service has always presented the challenge of managing expectations and it can be a thankless job. These consumer-facing roles often have a high turnover rate and companies are always looking for a way to shore up these positions. The newest trend has been to employ A.I. systems to take customer orders in kiosks and drive-thru lanes. McDonald’s has been tinkering with the drive-thru A.I. since 2021 and the company affirms that the technology has had an over 80% success rate when it comes to order accuracy. Anecdotal evidence from customer reviews may suggest otherwise and the technology has not been widely adapted at company locations, yet it is true that this software would improve over time as exposure increases. Other restaurants like Carl’s Jr have already implemented these automated drive-thrus at all locations and Wendy’s recently announced a partnership with Google to create a proprietary system for use in all of their locations.

Many Americans have already encountered these A.I. systems and not even realized it. Chatting with a robot at a drive-thru speaker is not as obvious as we might imagine. This software has also been implemented in menu boards and online ordering systems. The former might push items that a restaurant has a surplus of while suppressing low profit items and the latter can be used to predict ordering patterns. We are going to be talking to more robots in the future, yet it is the use of A.I. as an analytics and logistics tool that will upend some industries. Grocery stores and retailers have or are considering the use of machine learning technology to increase efficiency and drive key products. It could be implemented in check-out lanes and even used to completely redesign store floor planning.

The wide adoption of this technology has brought into question the impact it would have on jobs. Employees have always worried about being replaced by a machine and A.I. has revived those fears. The company line has been that this technology will open up opportunities for existing employees instead of replacing them. The reality though is that these industries have been dealing with a labor crisis for several years and automation is a potential solution to that problem. Minimum wage increases and understaffed stores have led to a situation where technology will be replacing someone’s job. It could also lead to better opportunities for existing employees and a more efficient and better product. We don’t know what the final outcome will be, yet we can rest assured that Artificial Intelligence has arrived, and it will change the future.