Episode Summary

In the new episode of Restaurants Reinvented, Jen Kern navigates through AI’s evolving role in the hospitality world. This episode stitches together highlights from various discussions on how artificial intelligence optimizes operations and elevates customer service in restaurants. 

Experts featured in the episode shed light on innovative AI applications, from managing inventory to personalizing dining experiences. They agree that adopting AI is less about displacing workers and more about bolstering the hospitality sector’s efficiency, automation capabilities, and creativity.

With insights from restaurateurs who are at the forefront of adopting AI, the episode paints a hopeful picture of technology as a tool for enhancement rather than displacement.


💡 Phil Crawford, former CTO at CKE

💡 Richard Shank, Senior Principal and VP of Innovation at Technomic

💡 Darien Bates, CEO at Fourtop 

💡Bobby Yazdani, Founder and Partner at Cota Capital

Key Insights

➡️ Voice AI in the Drive-Through Enhances Customer Experience

Phil Crawford discusses deploying voice AI in drive-throughs across 30 restaurants, highlighting over 90% accuracy in orders and reducing language barriers. This technology ensures consistency and allows employees to focus on food quality and customer interaction, demonstrating AI’s potential to streamline operations without replacing human jobs.

➡️ AI Requires Human Oversight and Ethical Applications

Richard Shank emphasizes the importance of human oversight in AI deployment, using the analogy of a car’s warning system to suggest a balance between AI and human intervention. Darian Bates further advocates for ethical AI use, focusing on its positive impact on customer experience and employee morale, underlining the necessity of thoughtful AI integration in the restaurant industry.

➡️ Transition to the Cognitive Era

Bobby Yazdani introduces the concept of the cognitive era, where AI acts as a co-pilot in business processes rather than replacing humans. This period marks a shift from merely using technology for information processing to employing it for learning and reasoning on our behalf, signifying a profound change in how AI is integrated into industries, including the restaurant sector.

Episode Highlights

Enhancing Drive-Through Efficiency with AI

Phil Crawford discusses deploying AI in drive-throughs to improve order accuracy and reduce language barriers. With over 90% accuracy achieved, this technology exemplifies how AI can complement human efforts, particularly in customer-facing operations.


“You pull up at new Carl’s or Hardee’s in certain markets where it’s tested and you’re actually talking to a machine using natural language processing. It takes your order. It’s consistent. It always says the upsells, it injects your order in the point of sale. And the beautiful part about it is you have a high level of accuracy. Over 90% accurate going into the point of sale system through direct integration.” 

– Phil Crawford

The Necessity of Human Oversight in AI Deployment

Richard Shank emphasizes the importance of human intervention in AI systems, advocating for a safety net when AI does not perform as expected. This approach aims to blend technology’s efficiency with human insight.

“It’s important for restaurants to build in a human redundancy factor so the machine isn’t making all the decisions”.  

– Richard Shank

AI and Real-Time Data Processing

Darian Bates highlights the potential of AI in enabling real-time data analysis, leading to quicker insights and decision-making. He discusses the evolving landscape of AI technologies and their application in business operations.

Introduction to the Cognitive Era

Bobby Yazdani introduces the cognitive era, where AI technologies learn and reason on behalf of humans. This period signifies a shift towards using AI as a tool for enhancement rather than replacement.

 “We are entering into a period where we’re going to be using technology to learn on our behalf and reason on our behalf.”

– Bobby Yazdani

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