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Thousands of Restaurants Turned to Voice Tech During COVID

When hundreds of thousands of restaurants across America were forced to close their dining rooms during the COVID-19 shutdown, the applications of voice tech for the restaurant experience became a big topic of discussion. Now with restaurants reopening, businesses are grappling with reassuring weary diners who are cautious of interacting with staff. Voice tech will likely play an even larger role. Voice technology overall has exploded since the pandemic began and it only makes sense that the technology will be harnessed to help bring back some of the most important aspects of daily life we all miss.

The first application of voice tech for restaurants was giving customers the ability to order food for delivery through voice search platforms like Amazon Alexa, Google Home and even Facebook Messenger and text message. Prior to the pandemic, very few restaurants even paid much attention to this. But the shutdown forced restaurants to find additional channels to reach delivery customers and voice search devices proved to be a large market. 

Voice Changed Delivery & Now Will Change Onsite Dining

One company called Jetson, which helps brands create a presence on voice search devices, has helped more than 10,000 restaurants in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago begin accepting voice orders. Their voice marketplace app, which is available for consumers to download, boasts more than 1.1 million products that users can order by voice. As voice search continues to grow in popularity with consumers, there will likely be even more restaurants that shift their focus to voice delivery platforms because of the cost-effectiveness they currently offer. Many platforms charge a monthly fee for restaurants to sell on their marketplace rather than taking a percentage of orders.

Now as restaurants reopen across the country, whether it’s outdoor or indoor dining, the question has become how voice tech can help create a more “contactless” experience that keeps both diners and staff safe. Voice tech seems poised to have a permanent impact on the restaurant experience as we know it. Jetson, for example, is rolling out a platform that allows customers to place their orders by voice via a smartphone app at restaurants that are supported by the platform. It’s expected to be introduced by this fall and there are countless other businesses looking at similar options. 

What Voice Means for Restaurant Experience

For consumers, this all begs the question of how voice technology is going to change the familiar experience of spending time at your favorite local restaurant or even how you’ll interact with restaurants while traveling. According to Jetson’s founder Peter Peng and what they’ve learned from the thousands of restaurants they partner with, here are a few things we should expect.

Your Smart Home Device Could Become the New “Drive Through”

Whether it’s Amazon Alexa, Google Voice, Siri or using a voice marketplace’s mobile app, voice could well become the primary way we order take-out in the near future. As it becomes easier and cheaper for restaurants to create a presence and integrate menus to voice marketplaces, this is likely where your favorite food will be. 

When You Eat Out, Servers Will Be Less Prevalent

Sure, somebody still needs to bring your food to the table (for now… robots coming soon?) But other than essential needs, your direct contact with restaurant staff is likely to diminish over the coming months and next few years. Jetson’s Peng suggests that diners will enter a restaurant, scan a QR code to view a menu, and then place their order via voice or perhaps by sending a text message.

Voice Could Improve Customer Service

For those not looking forward to less human interaction in their dining experiences, one bright spot could be improved customer service. Checking into a restaurant via QR code when first arriving could enable the ability to start a conversation via voice or text that gives diners more rapid access to making special requests, correcting orders and even digitally paying the bill without having to wait for a server to ever arrive at your table.

The one thing that likely won’t change is that no matter how innovative our contactless delivery and digital fulfillment becomes, consumers will always want to physically go somewhere to eat great food and enjoy time with friends. As voice technology and even other areas of artificial intelligence develop, the mission becomes how tech can help enhance our experience (and of course, safety) while we still enjoy the real world experiences that make us human.