Taco Bell, Pizza Hut going 'AI-first' with fast-food innovations

Operator Yum! Brands says about 45% of sales are digital

Yum! Brands, the operator of KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and The Habit Burger Grill restaurants, is embracing technology with plans for "AI-powered" fast food, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

The company has been increasing investment in technology and automation, with about 45%, or $30 billion, of sales being digital – nearly twice what it was in 2019 – Yum's chief digital and technology manager Joe Park told the newspaper. That is roughly double the level of 2019. 

"Our vision of [quick-service restaurants] is that an AI-first mentality works every step of the way," Park told the Wall Street Journal. "If you think about the major journeys within a restaurant that can be AI-powered, we believe it’s endless."

With California's new minimum wage law taking effect Monday, meaning most fast-food workers will be paid $20 per hour, most restaurant operators are turning to AI to cut costs and increase sales, the Journal reported.

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Ticker Security Last Change Change %
YUM YUM! BRANDS INC. 138.04 +0.35 +0.25%

For fast-food giants like Yum, the use of AI is aimed at going beyond improving the customer experience. 

Yum has a mobile app for restaurant managers called SuperApp, which the Wall Street Journal reported is testing generative AI, allowing team members to ask operational questions like how to set oven temperatures. Park told the Journal that the app – which is currently used by more than 8.700 Pizza Hut and KFC establishments – can also be used to purchase ingredients and set employee shifts, and that a new augmented reality feature could help teach workers how to make new menu items.

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Taco Bell worker makes Mountain Dew frozen drink

An employee makes the popular Mountain Dew Baja Blast frozen drink at the Taco Bell Cantina in Brookline, Massachusetts, on Dec. 4, 2020. (John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via / Getty Images)

Park told the newspaper that Yum's AI investments are paid for in part by fees from franchise owners, although the company did not say how much those fees are.

Yum! Brands did not immediately return a FOX Business request for additional comment. 

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Pizza Hut box

Breadsticks and a pepperoni pizza from a Pizza Hut restaurant, a unit of Yum! Brands Inc. (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via / Getty Images)

Texas KFC

The KFC logo is displayed outside a KFC restaurant, a unit of Yum! Brands Inc., in Houston, Texas, on July 13, 2010.? (Aaron M. Sprecher/Bloomberg via / Getty Images)

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Many fast-food chains have been increasing investment in technologies like digital ordering and more drive-thrus since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While some worry AI may take over the need for human workers, a Yum spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal "its employees will always play a critical role."

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