Chat bots, we’re told, are the future: Microsoft has declared them the next big thing, believing they could have as much of an impact as the introduction of touchscreen phones or web browsers. (Seriously, let that sink in for a moment.) They could largely replace apps as the way we humans accomplish a multitude of daily tasks, from buying a new pair of shoes to booking a flight. But for now, the bots just want to deliver you a pizza.
Facebook announced it would launch “business bots” on its Messenger platform back in April, and a multitude of companies, including Domino’s, have since rolled out their initial versions. If you’re craving pepperoni pizza for dinner, Domino’s Facebook bot will get the job done, but in its current state, the tech is hardly dazzling — and sadly, these chat bots don’t actually want to chat with you.
As The Verge explains, “this early wave of ‘bots’ [has] very little to do with complex artificial intelligence. They're really just a form of user interface.” More advanced AI is in the works, but for now, the bots are actually fairly stupid.
Strike up a conversation with the Domino’s Pizza bot — or “Dom,” as the company has referred to it in the UK — and its limited capabilities quickly become clear: Any attempt at interaction that’s not strictly transactional will be rebuffed by the bot.
Chat bots may be the future, but for now they’re pretty dumb. (Also, don’t judge me for trying to order pizza for breakfast.)
However limited its current capabilities may be, it makes sense that Domino’s would be the first major pizza chain to introduce a bot. Over the past year and a half or so, Domino’s has rolled out an initiative it calls “AnyWare” — a fleet of ordering options including tweeting emojis, a “zero-click” app, Apple Watch capabilities, and, of course, the Facebook bot.
The idea is to make ordering pizza as “frictionless” as possible, and for many people (cough, millennials) making a phone call and speaking to a human is the worst kind of friction. (According to Nielsen stats cited by Slate, the practice of actually talking on the phone officially died in late 2007, when the average number of texts sent per month outweighed the average number of calls made for the very first time.)
If ordering a pizza with minimal effort is your goal, the chat bot will certainly help you accomplish that — though like Domino’s other recent ordering innovations, it requires some forethought. Disappointingly, the bot can’t help you build a custom pizza, or even allow you to order one of Domino’s specialty pizzas. To order via bot, you must already have an online account with Domino’s, and have previously placed an order with it; then, and only then, can you tell the bot you’d like a repeat of your most recent order, or your designated “Easy Order.”
This means the bot is really reserved for true Domino’s loyalists, rather than those who simply want to test out pizza bot ordering as a novelty. (Guilty as charged.) But once you’ve got all that in place, initiating the process of getting a pizza to your door literally takes about two seconds, and you don’t even have to stop your late-night scrolling through your Facebook feed. (Ordering via Facebook bots is also considerably less buggy than the emoji ordering was when it first launched — that venture sometimes took hours to accomplish.)
And really, that’s the whole point of social ordering: If people are constantly glued to their Facebook walls and Twitter feeds, why not enable them to order food without even leaving the platform? (Restaurants encouraging users to simply message them on Facebook is also a heck of a lot easier than convincing them to download yet another uni-tasking app onto their smartphone.)
It’s not yet clear how many customers are actually using Domino’s chat bot, or if the chat bot is encouraging customers to order pizza more frequently; a spokesperson for Domino’s says because the feature is so new, the company hasn’t yet compiled any stats.
But rival Pizza Hut’s got one on the way, too, and its bot may be more impressive. The stuffed crust creator announced its chat bot in July, and it looked like it would beat Domino’s to market — but its launch date of August has come and gone, and the bot, along with the promised Twitter DM ordering, seemingly has yet to land. (The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)
Pizza Hut’s bot is being created in partnership with Conversable, a startup that’s also working on bots for Whole Foods and TGI Fridays. Pizza Hut has promised its bot will be “conversational,” facilitating ordering as well as being able to tell customers about current specials, helping them locate their closest store, answering questions, and even “remembering” customer preferences (such as if they’re a vegetarian) to guide order suggestions.
Conversable’s already got chatbots that are considerably more intricate than Domino’s. Take chicken wing chain Wingstop’s, for instance: Rather than having to default to something you’ve ordered before, the Wingstop bot will help you build an order from scratch by letting you select quantities and flavors.
But if ordering your dinner delivery from a Facebook bot proves too impersonal, there are still other options for the phone-adverse: Earlier this year Domino’s launched ordering via Amazon’s Siri-esque voice assistant, Alexa. The resident robot of Amazon’s voice-controlled Echo speaker will order your pepperoni pizza for you with just a simple voice command — and unlike Domino’s cold chat bot, she’s also remarkably capable of carrying on a conversation.
Of course, for us antisocial millennials, the dream is that in the near future, getting pizza for dinner could require zero human contact: You’ll simply send a Twitter DM or a Facebook message, then wait for your food to be dropped off by a drone or brought to your front door by a fully autonomous robot vehicle. And by that point, the bots’ AI may be developed enough to entertain you while you wait for that other robot to bring your pizza — but until then, it’s advisable to maintain your human friendships.