After rolling out an AI phone system in December 2022, Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza & Wings decided to pull back on automated technology in favor of a real person taking calls for orders.
Anthony’s, owned by BurgerFi International, used voice AI technology platform ConverseNow in all of its roughly 60 corporate-owned stores to meet increased demand for off-premises orders, which accounts for nearly 50 percent of sales, with 15 percent being over the phone.
However, after a year of implementation, the brand is ending its relationship with AI. Carl Bachmann, CEO of BurgerFi International, said the automated technology fell short of delivering the authentic customer experience Anthony’s promises to guests.
FSR recently sat down with Bachmann to learn more about the decision and where Anthony’s is headed.
What were guests saying about Becky, the AI?
Our guests are accustomed to receiving the same personal interaction and gracious hospitality over the phone as in our restaurants. Unfortunately, that was not the case with “Becky.” Instead, they found the experience impersonal and were frustrated by the questions and length of time it took to connect in live time with a human. They were faced with too many prompts and steps when ordering.
At Anthony’s, our core mission is to prioritize a personalized and authentic experience, primarily focusing on the customer. However, “Becky” did not align with our authentic customer experience ethos.
Were there performance differences after the system started using AI?
Our menu consists of fresh, made-to-order food that is created with love and passion. Therefore, we offer a customizable and specialty dining experience. Our AI system was difficult in the order process as it provided an excess number of prompts since it could not handle niche requests from our guests.
The AI was expected to aid in increasing check average by 10-12 percent. Was this the outcome?
Instead, it created a lot of frustration with our staff and customers alike. While we highly value technology, our commitment remains steadfast in providing guests with a seamless and welcoming hospitality experience from beginning to end.
Did you expect this reaction from customers?
Like adopting any new technology, we anticipated a learning curve and adjustment period. However, the AI answering system could not meet the needs of our guests or staff as it created less of an authentic customer experience.
Originally, the AI was supposed to provide faster service and improved customer experiences. How will you maintain that goal but with humans?
Our new app allows us to use technology to provide fast service while also offering guests another way to order. They can choose what they want their experience to look like, whether it is dining in, ordering via the app, online through our website, or over the phone speaking to an employee. Our employees are trained to interact with guests each way and can provide a true Anthony’s experience and Italian hospitality no matter how they order.
How are employees being prepared to switch off the AI system and handle the volume of calls while still maintaining excellent customer service?
Our staff have a long tenure and can smoothly handle the transition. We are also implementing refresher training focusing on a sense of home and familiarity, just like stepping into Nonna’s house.
How will Anthony’s streamline its off-premises operations (500,000 phone orders a year and 50 percent of sales) without AI?
Our dedicated service team manages phone orders and the Take-Out station. Those team members receive hands-on training to expertly navigate customers through ordering, providing assistance, answering questions, and managing personalized orders.
How will Anthony’s continue to innovate and balance technology with authentic customer service?
We offer online ordering through our website and our newly launched app to increase our digital presence for guests. We also recently launched a new loyalty program called Coal Fired Rewards, where guests can enjoy a free 12” pizza, earn points from every dollar spent, and unlock rewards as a VIP Anthony’s member. Technology is important to us and our guests, but a positive hospitality experience from start to finish will always be at the forefront of what we do.
The pizza segment especially has seen a huge surge in AI utilization. Do you think that by not using it, Anthony’s is setting itself apart?
Since 2001, Anthony’s has fostered a loyal clientele cherishing personalized interactions and memorable dining experiences. Our fundamental goal centers around prioritizing a Hospitality First approach, ensuring each experience is tailored to the individual. However, “Becky,” unfortunately fell short in delivering an authentic customer experience. Food and family will always be most important to us and our customers.
In the future, when franchisees begin opening stores, will they have the option to implement the phone AI ordering system?
It is important for guests to have a consistent experience and receive the same delicious food and hospitality no matter what Anthony’s restaurant they visit. We have learned an AI ordering system does not work for Anthony’s and does not meet the needs of our staff or customers. If technology improves, we could revisit it in the future, but not now.
If not over the phone, are there other areas inside the restaurant where automation may fit best?
We are always exploring ways to improve both front and back-of-house operations. In the future, there may be ways to use automation to create efficiencies, but we will not do that if it means sacrificing quality and authenticity.