A New Level of Online Ordering Convenience

People spend a lot of time on their smartphones, a good deal of it interacting with others directly through messaging apps or indirectly through social media. Historically, it has been difficult for business owners like restaurateurs to reach customers through the same channels they use to interact with their friends and family, but an emerging technology – the chatbot – is making it easier for operators to get in on the conversation.

A chatbot is a computer program that uses basic artificial intelligence to have simple conversations with humans. Chatbot technology has been applied for years for research and entertainment, but now businesses large and small are taking advantage of chatbots to improve customer service and to take orders.

One major technology company is helping to drive the power and relevance of the chatbot as it relates to restaurant operations.

Facebook Messenger, an app that allows users to message their friends outside of the main Facebook app, has been around since 2011, but its developers only version enabled the use of chatbots in April 2016. Since then, tens of thousands of chatbot programs have been written for it. Users can interact with these bots through the same interface they use to chat with friends and family.

Facebook Messenger was the third-most-popular smartphone app for 2015, according to a Nielsen report. It was also the fastest growing of the top 10 apps that year. Making it even more useful for businesses, the app can now accept payments for orders, meaning an entire transaction can take place within the app. That leaves fulfillment the only duty of participating companies.

Chain Chatter

Burger King was one of the early foodservice chains to take advantage of Facebook Messenger’s new feature when it introduced its chatbot service in May 2016. The program walks customers through customizing an order with a series of “Yes” and “No” prompts and menus that feature images of each item. When the customer has settled on an order, he or she can choose the restaurant to order it from out of a list of nearby Burger King locations.

Pizza chains are cashing in on the chatbot trend, too. In August 2016, Domino’s introduced Dom, a chatbot for Facebook messenger that lets users order pizza for delivery or carryout. Dom even lets users track the status of their order from prep through delivery. Dom is just the latest addition to Domino’s many digital ordering options, which include the ability to order a pizza by tweeting an emoji.

Pizza Hut announced that its equivalent bot for FB messenger and Twitter will be available in the Fall of 2016.

Taco Bell has announced a unique project of its own. The Tacobot is a chatbot available on Slack, a messaging service designed for work teams. Humans are able to tell the chatbot what they’d like to eat and the bot will echo the item requested, listing each component to ensure patrons get exactly what they expect. When the human is satisfied, he or she can click “Checkout” to place the order. So far, Slack does not offer a way for patrons to pay for their orders.

The Tacobot is currently being tested with a limited number of users. You can sign up for the waitlist if you’re interested.

Solutions for Indie Operators

A chatbot provides an alternative to traditional apps, which many people are leery to download for individual services they’re only likely to use occasionally. The technology can also help reduce human error as patrons can confirm their order visually before placing it. A restaurant owner can put a chatbot to work in a number of other ways, too. Guests can interact with a chatbot to get a store’s business hours, peruse the menu, or make reservations.

Most independant restaurateurs don’t have the resources to commit to developing their own chatbots, but if you’re interested, there are a number of companies devoted to developing chat bot technology for businesses of all sizes. FoodBot, Chatobook, and Conversable all contract with restaurants looking to connect with customers through chatbot technology.

Tanner West
Tanner West

A dedicated festival-goer, Tanner West has seen more bands perform live in the middle of hay fields and city parks than most people have probably heard of. Raised on beans and taters, he recently renovated a home and three vintage sheds in the back woods of East Tennessee that serves as a quiet retreat for reading and ready base for hiking and camping trips. Despite being able to craft 500-word descriptions of restaurant equipment, Tanner is a man of few words who described the best meal he ever ate in one word: Coffee.

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