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Chipotle pilots AI systems to assist workers and diners

The fast-food chain is trying out AI-powered cook assistants and consumer experience programs. Its tortilla-making bot will start making chips for some consumers next month.

Chipotle Mexican Grill has started using AI and machine learning programs to improve the experience of employees and guests.

The fast-food chain on Tuesday said it is piloting an AI kitchen management system and a contextual restaurant experience program.

The kitchen system uses AI and machine learning to notify cooks about the ingredients they need to prepare dishes and automatically helps cooks plan for what they need, according to Chipotle. The system is powered by PreciTaste, an AI vision platform for digital food management.

The contextual experience program lets consumers who opt in through the Chipotle App be notified when their order is ready or if they're at the wrong location and sends reminders about using the Chipotle Rewards QR code. The technology for this application is mobile proximity vendor Radius Networks' Flybuy predictive location system.

Automation, AI and labor

Chipotle is not the only restaurant company that's using AI and automation. In the past few months Panera Bread and pizza chain Jet's Pizza launched AI initiatives designed to supplement employee labor.

The moves come as many restaurants struggle to fill positions due to a labor shortage.

While the automation methods restaurants are using could cause some concern that AI is replacing jobs in the restaurant industry, the AI tools will likely help employers retain human workers, said Liz Miller, an analyst at Constellation Research.

"What we're seeing here is yet another example of where AI can be applied in really smart ways," Miller said.

By pairing AI tools or ML with workers, vendors and employers are helping employees do their jobs better, Miller said. More employees now will come to expect employers to provide them with AI assistants to help the human workers, she said.

"If you're on the Chipotle line, you expect tools in the same way your manager would expect you to be a better employee," Miller said. "If Netflix can pick up the best show for me to watch next, why can't something like that help me at work?"

Tools that help

What we're seeing here is yet another example of where AI can be applied in really smart ways.
Liz MillerAnalyst, Constellation Research

However, it's important that the automation technologies and AI tools are not demeaning or make employees feel incompetent, Miller added.

"It has to be applied in a way that does feel helpful as opposed to demeaning or degrading," Miller said.

Chipotle is trying out the kitchen management system at eight restaurants in Orange County, Calif. The chain is testing the contextual experience tool at several restaurants in the Cleveland area.

The fast-food chain also said its AI kitchen assistant Chippy -- which the company introduced this year as a tool to help make tortilla chips -- will start making the chips on its own at a Chipotle outlet in Fountain Valley, Calif., next month.

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