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AI, BI or BS: How TGI Fridays is using intelligent apps

"I can, with great confidence, say at some point in the future people will be able to place orders without interacting with their server,” says James Washington, product manager at US restaurant chain TGI Fridays.” In fact he believes face-to-face ordering will become a thing of the past entirely.

Although it's not quite there yet. “One thing we have learned is with technology you have to be able to operationalise it at scale... So yes, people will be able to order in stores [just] through their apps but we don’t have a target date.”

App-etitite for change

Nevertheless, the chain is keen to embrace new channels. For example, at the end of last year it launched a service to allow customers in its US restaurants to make reservations, place take-away orders and pay their bills using Amazon's Alexa. "We felt like there was a huge shift in digital space, with more people using voice assistants."

Using digital marketing company, Urban Airship's push notification platform, the firm has seen the benefits of personalised messages to guests on both a national and local level over the last 18 months, with hopes to roll out the personalisation to other markets, including the UK, in the future.

“We’ve had a lot of success with personalisation using [Urban Airship]. For example, we were able to detect which guests had not placed an order, and send them a push notification introducing them to online offers."

Previously such promotions had a high rejection rate. “The biggest win was being able to follow up and keep track what time of day that person ordered, as well as the items they ordered. So in the same time period the following week, we were able to present them with a push notification inviting them to re-order with a single click. That resulted in a 50% conversation rate, which was unexpected to say the least. In addition, the technology has also been useful in allowing it to keep track of how many people, and who visit its stores.”

AI hype?

Much of this type of technology has been billed as using artificial intelligence, but isn’t it really just clever use a business analytics or what used to be called business intelligence prior to the AI hype?

"Yes, I think business analysts is our starting point for measuring and informing our business on what’s working and what’s not. Where we are starting to see the benefits of AI is in interacting with our guests individually. It’s like when you go to your local bar and talk to the bar tender, people get to know what your preferences are and they can engage with you on a more personal level. So AI allows us to do that at scale."

He says it’s not just used for front-of-house engagement with guests. "It’s also helping our culinary and food development operation in their development and decision-making: pulling data together, as a layer on top of business analytics, and doing predictive models on what, based on past activity, we should we be trying to develop.”

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