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TGI Fridays’ quest to reinvent happy hour (and itself) with chatbots and IoT

Clint Boulton | Aug. 24, 2017
To return to relevancy in an increasingly digital world, the casual dining chain is developing chatbots and experimenting with bar-top tablets, personalized TV services and other IoT technologies to lure more millennials to its restaurants.

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Credit: Quinn Dombrowski (CC BY-SA 2.0)

You've been on the road all day when a reprieve comes from your smartphone in the form of a ping from the local TGI Fridays, inviting you to pop in for half-price happy hour cocktails. Wearily, you coax your car there and go straight to the bar, hop on a stool and punch in your cocktail order on the tablet interface flashing on the bar top. An electronic coaster with your name appears, assuring you that your drink won't be confused with someone else's as the corporate crowd steadily swells.

You use your smartphone to take a picture of a TV, which funnels the sound from the baseball game playing on it through your smartphone, granting you your own personal viewing experience. You kick back and wait for your beverage. Life is good and about to get better.

None of the 900-plus TGI Fridays worldwide offer these services yet but they may in the near future if Sherif Mityas has his way. The TGI Fridays CIO and vice president for strategy and brand initiatives is testing those technologies and more in a mock restaurant that serves as a launching pad for digital tools that could redefine casual dining in a world where more millennials cook at home or order from quick-service chains. Fridays must find a way to instill more loyalty among smartphone-toting consumers.

"How do you take that in the digital world, where people aren’t talking as much but they’re definitely looking at their phones, and walking around and they're socially integrated virtually and digitally," Mityas told CIO.com at the CIO 100 conference in Colorado Springs last week. "How does Fridays play in that world and be part of the consideration set that Fridays is cool again and connected to me? And are they the place I want to eat somewhere and have a drink or stay home and have it delivered? That’s the next frontier for us."

 

Chatbots: Personalized convenience

Fridays and its casual dining rivals have been racing to see what digital services will resonate. Since Mityas started at Fridays more than a year ago, the company has launched a mobile app that allows consumers to order online, pay at the table, and collect points for purchases and redeem them for rewards.

It also joined the latest craze in conversational messaging: chatbots. Working with chatbot specialist Conversable, the company has rolled out chatbots on Facebook Messenger and Twitter, with a chatbot built for Amazon Echo slated for launch in October. And for folks who love to order on the go and hands-free, a voice-based chatbot designed for General Motors' OnStar in-car service is on tap for November. “We’ve been doing all of these things, adding functionality to continue to be where our guests are and where their eyeballs are," Mityas says.

 

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