There is a recurring bit in Star Trek: The Next Generation where Capt. Picard orders “Tea. Early Grey. Hot.” and the ship’s computer magically makes one appear. Though the all-knowing, all-doing computer of the Enterprise served as the inspiration for Amazon’s Alexa, right now, her food producing skills are still a bit slim.
Orderscape, a young B2B startup, is looking to change that by creating a voice ordering software layer that uses smart speakers like Alexa to let people order from restaurants just by speaking.
The goal, according to Orderscape CEO Michael Atkinson, is to connect with enough restaurants so that people at home could say “Alexa, I’m hungry for a cheeseburger.” Alexa would reply with nearby burger joints, and then allow you to pick the restaurant, customize your order (no pickles!) and complete the transaction, all just by speaking. (Orderscape only facilitates the voice order, so you’ll still need to set up an account/payment information with the appropriate vendor.)
As Atkinson describes it, Orderscape is a plug-in that connects these ordering platforms with smart speakers like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. “We built our technology stack and integrate it into Alexa using our own natural language processing engine,” said Atkinson.
That natural-language processing takes in thousands of menu items and is able to understand what a “cheeseburger” is, as well as understand the exact types of cheeses available for burgers at that restaurant. So when you talk to Alexa to order your cheeseburger, Orderscape translates your instructions for the ordering platform, who passes it through to the restaurant.
In October of last year, Orderscape announced a partnership with LevelUp. Though nothing has been fully realized from that deal yet, Atkinson says that his software is currently ingesting 22,000 menus from LevelUp, and announcements around implementations are forthcoming.
Orderscape is also working with Fazoli’s pizza chain to offer voice ordering on Alexa, you can see it in action in this video:
Orderscape is “founder funded” right now, and Atkinson says that they’ll make money by getting a small percentage of the transaction when people use voice to place an order. Additionally, by acting as the middleman in the transaction, Orderscape will amass a lot of customer data that it can use to better understand and presumably monetize.
Partnering with aggregators like LevelUp is a smart play for the startup, as it puts Orderscape in front of more potential customers quickly and becomes a value add for the ordering platform.
I’m not convinced, however, that straight voice is the best mechanism for ordering food, especially when ordering multiple, complex items. Voice would be more powerful when paired with a visual element like the touchscreen on the Echo Show, so I could scroll through all the options available, see what I’m ordering and exactly how much I’m paying.
Since Alexa is built into devices like the FireTV that plug into screens, it’s not hard to imagine ordering your meal while watching an episode of Star Trek is that far away.