Opinion

The rise of the restaurant chatbot

By Eloise Sheppard

- Last updated on GMT

The rise of the restaurant chatbot
Smartphones are crowded spaces these days, with some commentators even saying the app revolution is over. Instead, attention has turned to bots, specifically chatbots, which use artificial intelligence to hold automated conversations with consumers.

To me, this translates well to the restaurant enquiry and booking arena, freeing up valuable human resource to ensure the moment a customer and operator finally do meet in the physical space, the operator has already started to build on delivering a truly memorable experience.

Gartner, the US research and advisory firm providing information technology related insight, predicts that by 2021, more than 50% of businesses will spend more per annum on bots and chatbot creation than traditional mobile app development. Researchers have also predicted that by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship with a restaurant without a single human interaction – quite something. This also means restaurant operators will only have a small 15% window to ensure their technology is all-singing, all-dancing – and now, all-chatting.

Digital giants such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are disrupting and seducing consumers into a whole new way of thinking. We can’t ignore the fact that consumers are becoming increasingly lazy about downloading apps, together with creating user profiles and passwords. It therefore makes sense that a more convenient, direct link in from a social-media channel would be their preferred choice. Just look at Facebook Messenger: there are currently 100,000 chats on the platform alone, with new ones being introduced daily.

It’s only a matter of time before tech-savvy diners view chatbots as an expectation, which will form an important part of their customer journey with an operator. As we enter an era of uncertainty, with staff shortages already an issue for many, restaurant operators should be looking for smart ways to alleviate the pressure points across their business. For example, consider the expense of manning a land line and driving traffic to messaging channels, when a chatbot can deliver this service to create high levels of customer engagement.

Chatbots are already relatively established in US restaurants. Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Burger King are all on the case, and we know interest is growing in the UK. PizzaExpress has launched a booking bot and OpenTable released an Amazon Echo Show ‘skill’, to allow customers to make a table booking ‘voice-first’. As with any technology, it will be important for operators to ensure their chatbot can integrate across existing technologies. The sweet spot is enquiries handled by a bot, with bookings then linked instantly to front-of-house.

Consider this: US-based SnapTravel reported $100m of additional bookings in the year following the launch of its chatbot within Facebook Messenger. Who knows what percentage of that business would still have come to them if they hadn’t shown up in the right place at the right time?
Surely for the restaurant industry too, that time is now.

Eloise Sheppard is managing director at Call Systems Technology​ and Restaurant magazine's guest technology editor

Related topics: People

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