TGI Fridays has a growing appetite for artificial intelligence (AI) and personalization.
AI tech is a strategic investment area for the casual dining restaurant chain this year, said James Washington, TGIF’s product manager for digital platforms.
Top-of-the-agenda use cases include improving the dining experience and enhancing the brand’s cross-channel messaging strategy, both of which hinge on understanding the customer through analyzing and predicting behavior and preferences.
“We’re in an ever-evolving digital landscape,” Washington said. “And we want to engage with and talk to guests across multiple channels.”
Casual dining has had a rough couple of years, with foot traffic declining, especially among millennials. But Fridays, which has more than 500 locations across the United States, is using digital and data-driven tactics to try to buck the trend.
In a recent campaign powered by its partner Urban Airship, for example, TGI Fridays used push notifications with an offer to encourage diners to try online ordering for takeout.
Whenever users converted, Fridays learned about their food preferences and used that information to send a follow-up message a week later at around the same time the original order was placed to encourage another purchase. Diners could easily edit their order online and pay with one click.
More than 65% of consumers converted with a repeat order on the second message.
Customer engagement is a data game, said Mike Herrick, SVP of product and engineering at Urban Airship, which spent the last six months training a machine-learning model to help brands predict when to send messages for optimal results and orchestrate their messaging across channels, including push, email and SMS.
Urban Airship also collects first-party data every time users engage with a message, which marketers can stream to their other technology providers for activation or analysis.
That’s an appealing proposition for TGI Fridays, which wants to keep getting smarter with its multichannel strategy.
“We used to have one campaign running in one channel and another campaign running in a different channel and no cross-channel understanding between them on an individualized basis so that we could optimize and speak to people in their preferred channel,” Washington said.
But the goal isn’t always to drive a conversion. In some cases, a well-timed message is aimed at keeping TGIF in the consideration set.
“We look at lots of data signals, like purchase history or when time someone goes into a location,” Washington said. “We know Fridays may not always be top-of-mind, but when someone’s hungry we know what they like to eat, and if we can engage with a guest at the optimal time, we can differentiate.”
Beyond messaging, TGI Fridays has its eye on tapping into AI to help dictate menu and bar changes.
“It’s not something that’s widely talked about, but we’re interested in using some of this intelligence to improve our operation and to innovate the food and the service,” Washington said.
Fridays is also innovating on other fronts. It’s got a partnership with OnStar, for example, that allows diners to make reservations from their car and a skill for Alexa that enables voice ordering and instant payment through Amazon Pay.
“We want to lead the charge in the restaurant space, but we also want to constantly evolve with the likes of Amazon and Uber,” Washington said. “That’s our big picture.”