Operators can use AI and automation technology to engage with customers
Artificial Intelligence has been capturing media attention lately as a futuristic tool that can do everything from automate jobs to help students cheat on tests. For pizzeria operators, AI can be part of a marketing automation strategy that helps the restaurant engage with customers, increase repeat visits and increase brand awareness.
Marketing automation refers to technology that can manage communications with customers, such as software that handles the task of sending e-mails and texts offering discounts. AI uses large amounts of data to mimic the way humans think and perform complex tasks, such as chatbots that respond to customer service issues.
“There are two functional categories of AI you should be thinking about when it comes to restaurants,” says Darien Bates, CEO of Fourtop, “One is discovery, and one is execution.”
ChatGPT, an AI chatbot released in November 2022, is on the discovery side. It’s a generative tool that allows people to tap into a broad information set to answer questions that are otherwise impossible or too time-consuming to answer. On the execution side, restaurants can use AI to figure out when to start prepping the pizza after someone places an order. That process can change over time as more orders come in.
“That’s adaptive automated decisioning,” Bates says. “It adapts over time and helps make pre-determined decisions.” He predicts that in the next decade or so a third of restaurant operations will use these refinement models to perform tasks such as scheduling, ordering ingredients and supporting timing on guest experience.
AI can also play a role in marketing.
Restaurants can use data from their POS systems to build lists of phone numbers and e-mail addresses to send discounts and other offers. The pizzeria owner can leverage AI to go through large lists of data and figure out which customers respond to discounts, and which respond to other offers. “If you set it up correctly, there are systems out there that connect with ongoing guest data, and you can track behavior,” Bates says. “All these elements have to be built on clean, first party data that belongs to the restaurant. You have to have your data house in order.”
There are benefits to using AI generated messaging. “The most important thing to keep top of mind is how powerful this tool is for increasing in-house efficiency while remaining personalized from customer to customer,” says Angela DeFranco, vice president of product at SevenRooms.
The tool enables pizzeria owners to analyze customer feedback and automate responses such as recommendations, promotions, and reservation confirmations. That frees up restaurant staff to perform other tasks, while customers receive relevant, personalized offers. People who order wine can be invited to attend an in-house wine tasting, or customers with nut allergies can be excluded from an email announcing a new pesto pasta dish. “In return, independent restaurants like pizzerias can keep up with competitors and see those return guests waltz back through their doors for more dining experiences,” DeFranco says.
Repeat business is important, and AI can help by organizing massive amounts of data related to customer purchases. “You can group customers into logical segments,” says Zach Goldstein, founder and CEO of Thanx. “The family who comes in on Saturdays is very different from college students who come in late night Wednesdays.”
The old “buy ten get one free” model is not effective, Goldstein says, and restaurant operators can use AI to figure out what to offer to different customers. “Data is not valuable unless you are doing something with it to the benefit of the customer,” he says. “When done right you are delivering a value that could be financial such as a discount, or it could be an invitation to an event, or access to a secret menu.”
Pizzeria owners can also use AI to generate marketing content including text, images and video.
“Some of the most time-consuming tasks in marketing are for content creation, including finding the right tone, responding quickly and getting a message across,” says Carl Turner, CEO and founder of SWIPEBY.
Turner says AI can write text for the restaurant website, create emotional social posts to drive people to the pizzeria, and answer professionally to positive and negative reviews. AI can write a script and copy for a TV commercial, create a video, and chat with customers that have questions on social media or their website.
“AI can even create appetizing food photography that will make a customer want to order even more than they had planned,” Turner says. “AI could take over every part of customer engagement besides the actual interaction in the store.” He adds that it can also save money, as a restaurant might otherwise pay a social media agency hundreds of dollars a month to write two posts a week.
One growing area is voice ordering with AI.
People are already talking to their TV remotes and smart speakers, and they will discover pizzerias and place orders directly through voice AI-enabled smart devices or from their vehicles. “As we move into a new era of search, driven by new ChatGPT-style AI technologies, voice will become the most natural interface for every consumer,” says Mike Lauricella, head of channel partnerships at SoundHound. “Customer expectations are constantly rising and, as technology becomes more sophisticated, people are demanding experiences that are intuitive, convenient and fast.”
Independent restaurants can use voice AI technology to pick up inbound phone orders, then roll out the technology to kiosks and other ordering platforms. The voice assistant can even upsell and cross-sell menu items, even if those change frequently. “Voice AI technology can also provide additional information about parking and opening hours, helping any restaurant automate the basics so your staff can deliver an exceptional, personal service that keeps customers coming back for more,” Lauricella says.
As AI and marketing automation become mainstream and consumers receive more personalized offers, operators must find ways to stand out. One high-tech way is to put offers in front of mobile gamers. “We’ve seen that 56 percent of gamers will likely buy from a brand that’s in their game of preference,” says Jeff Michaels, vice president, marketing and sales enablement for Mobivity. “Without AI and specific, unique data points like these to feed into AI, pizzerias are on equal footing with every other brand marketing the same thing to the same consumers. The end result is consumers tune out.”
Nora Caley is a freelance writer who covers small business, finance and lifestyle topics.