Chatbot Tracker: The Hungry, Hospitable Chatbot

Headed out for a bite tonight? Or, are you ordering in? Chances are a chatbot may have some involvement in your dining experience, even if you’re not completely addressing said chatbot.

From seating hostess to pizza delivery order taker, chatbots are showing up in the food scene quicker than we can call over a waiter or a busser to clear the table.

Speaking of table, need one? A chatbot will reserve you one at TGI Fridays, which is one of the first chain restaurants that is using chatbots to secure reservations through Facebook Messenger. Coversable’s chatbot platform is behind the new capabilities, and later this fall, you’ll be able to order TGI Fridays food online though other social media platforms.

And, apparently, patrons are already buying into the concept, perhaps only half-knowingly.

“Fridays doesn’t share specific sales numbers, but we can tell you that online orders have increased this last week, as have downloads of our mobile app and membership to our Fridays Rewards program,” Sherif Mityas, vice president of strategy and brand initiatives at TGI Fridays, told PYMNTS via email.

The Dallas-based casual-dining folks add that it’s an effort to extend the restaurant’s experience into the places its guests are naturally interacting. That includes whether they’re inside or outside the physical walls of brick-and-mortar locations. 

“We will continue to evolve the responses and add to the functionality. In addition to helping facilitate orders, frequently asked questions, the ability to make reservations, chatbots will start to allow for deeper customer care interactions and recommendations,” Ben Lamm, CEO and cofounder of Conversable, told PYMNTS.

There has been some competition in the space, however. Back in June, Israeli startup AppFront announced its chatbot — appropriately named Order Bot — to help restaurants conduct business over Facebook’s burgeoning chatbot platform. With a satellite office in Boston, these bots are already showing up at more than 35 locations in New England.

And pizza, well, it has a funny roundabout way of having already entered the space. Domino’s launched its bot recently, and Pizza Hut’s been talking about it since July. Just to add to this list, Wingstop launched its chatbot in June, and Taco Bell is in testing phases with its bot that helps you order the best gordita you can imagine.

Let’s turn the tables to the restaurant’s perspective.

Foodbot, which calls itself “the first food ordering chatbot for restaurants, which allows your customers to place delivery and takeout orders, book tables and make online payments in places where they spend the most time online.” Sounds like all the tricks a restaurant may need, right? Sort of an OpenTable meets GrubHub meets digital payments.

And there’s Chatobook, which has similar functions but said it’s the number one chatbot for restaurants. Founded this year, it said its goal is to be “providing [the restaurant] the affordance to make for time for your business, while your chatbot handles customers.”

Restaurant owner, you’ve got choices. But enough food chatbot chatter, how about another area of hospitality … hotels.

Apparently, Travelodge U.K. said its virtual assistant, “Andrea,” has been one of its best “employees.” She’s allegedly saved the company on customer service costs, while improving customer happiness. Andrea is a chatbot who can be programmed in almost any language, answer customer questions anytime of day and, of course, doesn’t need a 401K or health care benefits.

Need a towel or room service? How about recommendations on local attractions? Edwardian Hotels London, a Radisson Blu brand, said its chatbot, “Edward,” is available to respond to guest queries within seconds at 12 hotels in the U.K.

“We have a very capable and successful in-house software team, and as an independent hospitality group, it makes sense for us to develop this technology alongside a trusted partner … This allows us to be nimble to action any updates required and respond directly to guests’ comments regarding function and usability,” said Michael Mrini, director of information technology for Edwardian Hotels London.

And then, there’s “Sam.” He’s the travel-savvy chatbot out of FCM, who can and will assist with all aspects of travel, including itineraries, gate changes, driving directions, weather, restaurant recommendations and reservations. Sam picks up on travel patterns and preferences and updates travelers accordingly, even patterning with Lyft for coordinating ground transportation.

What will happen to the hospitality business? What about universities like Cornell, which has the leading hospitality program in the country. How will we evolve in this space?

Ironically, a hospitable chatbot may be the one who answers this question.