Editor’s note: At this year’s National Restaurant Association Show, QSR caught up with restaurant executives to get their take on 2023’s biggest topics and what’s on the mind of operators. We’ll share their insights and observations from the floor, thoughts on the future, and what matters most headed into the back half of the year and beyond.

Past interviews:

Geoff Alexander, president and CEO of Wow Bao

Starbird CEO Aaron Noveshen

Taziki’s Marketing Leader Julie Wade

Craveworthy Brands CEO Gregg Majewski

Wienerschnitzel Operating Chief Rusty Bills

What’s on your tech radar this year?

It’s been really cool to see the way various folks are starting to use AI, like ChatGPT. It’s the concept of allowing people to offer personalized service, but still automated. There is A LOT of kiosks around here. You had that article talking about tech trends, labor is 100 percent the thing. How are we going to be able to leverage technology? Hopefully some of this AI stuff will make it so folks can have a good experience without being super frustrated.

OK, since we’re already talking about, what’s your take on the state of AI?

I think it’s going to be a very real thing. I suspect that it’s not going to suddenly be the next month and everything is going to be different. At the core, hospitality is still hospitality. And there’s a bunch of places that I think we’re already looking at AI. Things like, can we produce better insights? Can we help people with menu builds? Can we do those kinds of things? But at the end of the day, I think the hospitality end of the equation, I want somebody to come up to my table. I want them to talk to me about the specials. I want them to make me feel welcome. 

Robots are not going to be able to do that, despite how many adorable little robots they have floating around. They have a little bit of a novelty effect, but it doesn’t quite seem faster yet. It will eventually. The best technologies are invisible. They seamlessly work and happen in the background and makes your experience better. But it’s not jammed down your throat.

Next year, what are we talking about?

I always think that we’re right on the cusp of figuring out this concept of personalization. This idea that every guest is treated the same is kind of bananas to me. There’s a Vietnamese restaurant that I probably order from four times a month. Big orders—$150, $200 orders. Every time they answer the phone, they’relike, ‘Hello, can I tell you about my menu?’ And I’m like, ‘No! It’s me, Bryan. I’m going to order two No. 12s, we’re going to do this.’ There’s an interesting thing playing out with people being comfortable trading off a little bit more of, ‘I understand you have the data, I want you to have a better experience, I don’t care if you use my face, I don’t care if you have a credit card on file. I do care if I can get in and out quickly. I do care if you can give me something tailored to me.’

I feel like we’re all getting used to that. Who doesn’t have 12 subscription programs these days?

There’s a huge generational element. In my past life, I worked at Google. And one of the things we could see was comfort with giving away data was highly correlated to age. And so, people, we’ll call 40s and below, were like, ‘as long as you can make my life better, save my name, save my credit card, save my home address, do whatever you need to do.’ I think, generally, the amount of friction is now even eroding those people who previously were like, ‘oh, I don’t want you to have it.’ Now, they’re saying, ‘I just don’t’ want to wait in line.’

Business Advice, Restaurant Operations, Story, Technology