There’s a good chance that an Amazon Alexa or Google Home device is on a holiday wish list of someone you know. Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimates that 15 million Amazon Echo units have been sold across the U.S. (Amazon does not disclose sales figures). As of now, Alexa’s use in dining out is centered more around at-home, consumer experiences. A quick glance through the restaurant related Alexa skills show an emphasis on discovery, information and ordering. Find a nearby restaurant. Order a pizza. Etc.
But is there a bigger opportunity for Alexa and Google Home inside the restaurant?
According to the National Restaurant Association, there are more than 1 million restaurant locations in the U.S. generating $799 billion in sales. One million on its own isn’t huge, but with some creative thinking, you could easily envision multiple devices deployed per restaurant, plus all the data captured from in-store interactions and you can see restaurants becoming a front in the voice assistant battle worth fighting over.
As a fun thought experiment, I put together a few potential uses for Alexa inside dining out:
An interactive table alert. Instead of a dumb, inert buzzer that flashes and vibrates when your table is ready, modify an Echo Dot to be the messenger. Instead of bugging the host, patrons could ask Alexa how much longer the wait time is, and be alerted when they can be seated. If you wanted to get real adventurous, in the right setting, you could even do ongoing interactive trivia games to keep people entertained.
Informed ordering. With its touch screen, an Echo Show would be an excellent way to show menu items, explain more about ingredients, and highlight popular dishes. You could also enable ordering and payment for a more streamlined experience. In a cruel, horrible world, one can imagine restaurants offer a cheaper meal if customers allow ads to be displayed while they’re eating (please don’t do that).
Back of house. Alexa could be used for quick ordering of ingredients, equipment or other sundries which, of course, could be fulfilled by Amazon that day. It could also be used to alert employees about their break times and inform them of any news or specials.
Communication back home. By gathering real time data inside a restaurant, Alexa at home could provide better, more informed real-time decisions about where and when to eat at a particular establishment.
Having said all this, there are some real world limitations to this type of implementation:
There’s a pretty small needle to thread in terms of the types of restaurant voice control will work. Too loud and voice control is useless and you can’t hear Alexa talk. Too quiet and voice control is annoying for everyone else.
It’s hard to imagine restaurants buying and modding Echo devices or writing their own skills. However companies such as Toast or Square could weave Alexa into their platforms and embed them on customized devices that are sold into restaurants.
We are still in the early stages of voice assistants and how far into our lives they will go. But as they get better, restaurant owners may not want to wait until the holidays to get their own.
Have you seen Alexa or Google Home used in interesting ways inside restaurants? Or have a wild idea about how they could? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.