How artificial intelligence, automation can put small brands on equal footing with larger brands

| by Bradley Cooper
How artificial intelligence, automation can put small brands on equal footing with larger brands

Artificial intelligence and automation have been breaking into the restaurant industry for a while now. The most common narrative is that it will eliminate the need for employees as robots take all the jobs away. Don Hawkins Jr., group vice president of emerging chains, government and retail, The Middleby Corporation, believes, on the other hand, that automation will make our lives better. He presented on the topic of AI and automation in restaurants during the "Automation and Robotics: The Past, Present and Future of Your Kitchen," event at the Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit in Louisville, Kentucky.


Hawkins first addressed how data will make it easier for small restaurants to compete with larger chains.

"The wonderful thing about data (is) it's the great equalizer. It allows the small to compete with big because you have the same platform," Hawkins said during the presentation.

One example he gave was building information modeling systems. This tool allows restaurants and other companies to virtually plan out their buildings from beginning to end. This can dramatically cut down on the time it takes to open a restaurant.

One restaurant franchise in Brazil always opened late from its estimated start date. The earliest it ever opened a location was 60 days late. When it used a BIM, however, it was able to get up and running two months early.

Data will also enable interconnected buildings that can communicate to the owners. A building, for example, could notify maintenance when a light bulb is about to go out. Operators could also virtually survey various locations for remodeling.

AMC Theaters was able to start surveying more than 200 locations using a BIM on Jan. 5, 2017, and it was able to finish remodeling by May 2017, according to Hawkins.

Restaurant specific tech

Hawkins mentioned several other ways AI can improve restaurants, such as systems that can notify operators when a certain product needs to be reordered. He spoke of other innovative solutions including:

  • Electrochemically activated solutions that turn water into cleaning supplies 200 times more effectively than bleach
  • Composting solutions
  • Dewatering solutions
  • Kitchen tech-as-a-service where owners pay a monthly fee to use a smart kitchen

Hawkins also argued that restaurant tech will eliminate training time by using displays to guide employees step by step how to make a certain product.

Hawkins believes that ultimately all this technology will make restauranteurs' jobs and lives easier.

It'll make our lives better

He also pointed out how this technology could open the job market to people who normally wouldn't be able to work. For example, he spoke of a restaurant organization that employs people with severe autism to help give them work skills. With technological tools such as guided training, people who would normally never get a chance could gain work experience.

Hawkins doesn't believe that robots and AI tools will ultimately take away everyone's jobs.

"People thought ATMs would put bankers out of business and JP Morgan built more banks. Don't be afraid of the future. Robot armies are not coming to take your jobs. It's gonna help us," Hawkins said.

Hawkins encouraged attendees to use these new technologies to build a better world for everyone.

Wanna hear more? Join us at the Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit, July 16-18 in London. Registration is now open. 

Cover photo: iStock

Topics: Systems / Technology

Companies: The Middleby Corporation

Bradley Cooper

Bradley Cooper is a Technology Editor for and His background is in information technology, advertising, and writing.

wwwView Bradley Cooper's profile on LinkedIn

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