The restaurant industry is undergoing a major overhaul, all thanks to the transformative power of artificial intelligence. AI-driven content and analytics are the early architects of this, redefining the way restaurants engage with their customers and bringing an unprecedented level of precision, speed, quality and insight to their marketing strategies, especially when restaurants are really hurting. 

But this shift is not characterized by data alone. We’re experiencing a profound dive into understanding and anticipating customer needs like never before, and it’s entirely reshaping how fast we can connect with customers and create memorable experiences. Imagine having a secret weapon in your marketing arsenal—that’s the essence of AI’s role in today’s restaurant landscape.

AI’s Unmatched Precision: A Key Asset

In the fast-paced world of quick-service restaurants, the introduction of AI at drive-thru operations marks a significant shift toward digital engagement excellence and enhanced customer service. This technological evolution is about much more than just automating orders; it represents a strategic reallocation of time and resources. For marketers, the integration of AI frees up time previously consumed by day-to-day operational challenges, enabling a sharper focus to improve the order accuracy, quality and speed of service that directly influence the customer experience. This shift can empower teams to contribute more effectively to business growth and customer satisfaction. By leveraging AI to automate routine processes, restaurants can create a culture that takes better advantage of the data available and at a faster pace, offering a blueprint for success in the competitive quick-service industry.

AI doesn’t just provide insights; it unlocks a secret language of consumer behavior. It’s about personalization at its core, offering restaurant marketers invaluable insights into consumer behavior, preferences, and trends. 

This transition to personalization also accelerates the rollout of targeted marketing strategies, like boosting online engagement with content tailored to the audience’s specific preferences and behaviors to increase local visibility. Moreover, diligently monitoring customer feedback on review platforms is crucial for reputation management, as it enables restaurants to quickly address recurring issues and make informed decisions to improve service quality. According to SOCi’s 2023 Local Visibility Index, an alarming 54 percent of Google reviews go unanswered, and the average U.S. retail brand loses about $30 million in revenue yearly by failing to engage with local audiences. Across the entire retail sector, this equates to a staggering $2.4 billion in potential revenue left on the table.

Automating the Brand Voice with AI

AI’s impact reaches far beyond data analysis. It’s also about automating the brand voice while maintaining a human touch. In today’s fast-paced, multi-channel marketing environment, AI is the ally that can ensure marketing and operators are delivering a consistent customer service experience. 

For AI to work independently, it requires initial and ongoing training by humans to make sure it aligns with a brand’s voice and values. This will allow for seamless responses to consumer interactions, providing AI-generated, brand-consistent communication while maintaining uniformity across all locations. With the correct training, AI can promptly respond to negative social media posts and interactions, for example, and provide insights into resolution rates and other key social metrics. The personalization offered by AI can be tailored based on user interests, past interactions, demographic information, and other factors—in turn increasing sales through brand recognition and loyalty.

Beyond social media interactions, AI can personalize customer experiences through customized marketing strategies. AI can identify which products or services a customer prefers—such as a specific type of cuisine or popular dishes in a restaurant—and can help create targeted promotional campaigns that align to those individual preferences. Targeted promotional campaigns like these will resonate deeply with your audience, making each customer interaction more relevant.  

Improving Localized Content

AI plays a vital role in enhancing local SEO efforts, analyzing trends and user behaviors to fine tune online content for higher rankings in local search results. With the rise of AI-powered search engines providing direct answers, consumers can easily find restaurant reviews, ratings, special dining offers, or dietary options without having to click through to a website. To stay relevant in this evolving environment, restaurant brands must quickly focus on making their information easily accessible and compatible with chatbots. This is critical for multi-location brands, in particular, that rely on localized search when consumers are looking for locations nearby.

Let’s focus again on enhancing digital engagement. According to data from SOCi’s Local Visibility Index, the potential for SEO improvement in this respect is significant, with the average restaurant brand responding to only 41 percent of their Google reviews, 27 percent of Yelp reviews, and 30 percent of Facebook recommendations. These unresponsive brands are not listed in Google’s prominent three-pack in 64 percent of searches, indicating a substantial opportunity for restaurants to enhance their local SEO strategies to increase visibility in search listings. Restaurants risk losing more than $21 million annually across reputation, social, and search as a direct result of “ghosting” customers online when they give feedback, ask questions, or leave reviews, but AI can be a powerful co-marketer that alleviates the pressure of responding to customers across all locations.  

Embracing AI in the restaurant world is not just about marketing smarter; it’s about creating bonds with each customer and offering uniquely tailored experiences and carving out space in a crowded market. A focus on localization not only boosts customer engagement but also fortifies the brand’s connection with local communities, fostering a more robust customer base. And with AI handling the day-to-day tasks, marketing teams are freed up to craft digital engagement strategies that truly resonate. In this new era powered by AI, marketing teams have more time to create quality experiences for customers.

As CMO, Monica Ho is responsible for developing and leading SOCi’s marketing and communications functions, as well as ensuring the company is uniquely positioned in the highly crowded marketing technology landscape. Monica’s tenure in the industry includes over 20 years of digital marketing, advertising, and research experience, including a solid foundation in sales, strategy, and data analytics. Prior to SOCi, she served as Global CMO at GroundTruth (formerly xAd, Inc), where she helped grow the business from an early stage start-up to an award-winning global brand. Well regarded in the space, Monica has received numerous accolades and awards including being ranked one of The Most Powerful Women in Mobile Advertising (3 years in a row) by Business Insider and one of the 100 most influential North American b2b tech marketers by Hot Topics. In addition to her role at SOCi, Monica serves on the advisory boards of several digital marketing and technology start-ups within New York, Texas, and California.

Outside Insights, Story, Technology