Generative AI has been utilized to write articles and Tinder messages and create recipes and art of all kinds. Now, it’s being used by some restaurant owners to spit out pictures of food for their digital menus.
Nabeel Alamgir, CEO of restaurant tech startup Lunchbox, recently introduced a free AI-powered food photo generator with the help of OpenAI, the firm behind the viral bot ChatGPT. Lunchbox, a restaurant management software company that works with about 200 brands, built the tool using OpenAI’s text-to-image tool DALL-E.
Alamgir said Lunchbox pays OpenAI a “small fee” per query. Since its January 19 launch, it has generated 175 million AI photos, he said. Lunchbox is not able to track which restaurants or brands are using the tool.
Like ChatGPT, users describe what they’re searching for to generate content — in this case, a food photo. Insider asked it to create an image of “a burger with blue cheese and bacon” on a “brown” background. Style and background suggestions are optional.
The request proved tricky for the bot.
It cranked out four images, including a burger with light blue buns, giving them a moldy look. Another picture showed an artisan-looking burger with a thick slice of blue-colored cheese.
Alamgir said the food photo generator aims to help restaurants boost sales. Citing Grubhub data, he said restaurants that add pictures to their menu items receive upwards of 70% more orders and 65% higher sales compared to restaurants that do not.
“We launched this free generator to provide small and new restaurants access to the very same tools that bigger platforms offer for a fee,” Alamgir said.
Even DoorDash insists on good photography, according to food tech writer Kristen Hawley, who first reported about Lunchbox’s photo generator tool last month.
“Since the menu is the main online touchpoint, an unattractive or poorly organized menu can have a huge negative impact on a merchant’s online conversion rate, regardless of the quality of the food,” the delivery operator said in a 2020 blog post.
In today’s social-media-obsessed world, a picture is not only worth a thousand words – it could be worth 100,000 views or likes. But how will diners respond when the dish they order looks nothing like the one in the picture?
While tools like the food photo generator are new, historically, customers tend to expect their dishes will look as advertised. Chains have even been sued when menu items don’t live up to their advertisements.
“We understand maintaining menu integrity is important,” he said. “The reason we launched the food image generator is because it can get profoundly close to the real visual of your more simple dishes, but it carries out the marketing component that many new and small restaurants cannot afford.”
Alamgir said the tool is meant to fill in gaps for restaurants that don’t have access to professional food photography.
Julie Zucker, a partner and chief marketing officer at Branded Hospitality Ventures, said “mouth-watering” food photos may certainly drive a guest to order.
The food tech VC firm, which also runs a string of restaurants in New York, invests in startups that solve problems for restaurants. Branded Hospitality Ventures is not an investor in Lunchbox.
“There is no question that photos sell, and there is tremendous data to back that up,” Zucker said. “However, operators did not open restaurants to become food photographers, so if there is an AI tool to accurately represent real dishes that does not mislead guests, then that tool is going to be a surefire winner.”
Still, fake food photos might not work for DoorDash. On its website, the company said it rejects photos on their app if they do not “properly represent the item.”
“Customers should see a realistic representation of what they will receive when ordering online,” DoorDash told Insider. “Showcasing high-quality, accurate menu images are crucial for maintaining customer trust and generating sales through DoorDash.”
If restaurants lack food photos, DoorDash said it offers complimentary photo shoots.