Photo credit: Bbot

Providing touch-free experiences for consumers has become one of the hospitality industry’s hottest selling points as of late. In the foodservice world, COVID-19 has accelerated the need for contactless ordering and payment—hotels, restaurants and bars of all types are flocking to technology platforms that allow consumers to scan a QR code, order and pay with their phone. And while dozens of services have cropped up over the past few months in response to the demand, one in particular has been at it for years. 

Enter Bbot, founded in 2017 by a team of former Naval officers. Their technology goes far beyond the basic scan, order and pay model, however. When you take into account the hundreds of one-off customer service issues, policy exceptions and payment alterations that hospitality staff face every day, Bbot is about as close as you can get to replicating human finesse in an automated environment. 

“If a server spills a drink by accident and wants to comp the customer, that’s a hard thing to do if the customer already pre-paid for that drink,” said Co-Founder and CEO Steve Simoni. “We have the back-of-house software that allows staff to amend orders and payment.”

“Our system is configurable per individual QR code. That means we’re able to work with extremely complex systems: food halls, hotels, restaurants with multiple sections like rooftop bars that have different ticketing systems than their dining rooms, and restaurant groups with multiple concepts,” Simoni said. 

“Let’s say you have an outdoor seasonal venue where guests order and pick up food from a counter while servers bring drinks to the table. You can program Bbot to send a text message to the customer that tells them where to pick up their food. If that same customer orders drinks, the server knows where to bring them. You’ve got two completely different things going on for the different types of items ordered. If you want something like that done without a person physically taking that order, you have to come to Bbot.”

Simoni, an engineer by trade, began his career as an Officer with the US Navy, where he met Co-Founders Greg Jaworski and Luke Allen. He spent five years developing instrument and control systems for new ships and submarines, then left for San Francisco to enter the startup world. Bbot began as a project he completed on nights and weekends while working full-time as a product manager.

“The original Bbot was an overhead robotics system used in bars and nightclubs,” Simoni said, describing a robotic arm that served drinks via a track system on the ceiling. “We took the robots to a trade show in New York City, where we met [Partner] Tommy Morgan from The Brooklyn Barge. He was more interested in the software than the robot itself. That’s where we realized we were onto something.”

Bbot’s contactless ordering and payment system allowed customers to place orders in high-volume settings where servers weren’t able to keep up with demand. Restaurants saw their sales go up and word got around. Then COVID hit, and the service went from being an added bonus to a necessity. 

The market caught on. Bbot went from servicing 90 partners to more than 500, including big names such as Union Square Hospitality Group, and recently raised $3M in funding.

Simoni is allocating some of this new capital to a customer success team, so that Bbot can scale the its regimented partner onboarding program.

“We have some operational discipline as naval officers. Years of experience have let us map out our customer journey, and we engage the stakeholders pretty aggressively,” Simoni said. “We work closely with each owner to understand exactly how their operation works…If you’ve got a rooftop patio, you have to handle all the complex routing rules to make sure that the right tickets are going to the right venue.” 

The same discipline led Simoni to integrate Bbot with most POS systems, an impressive feat given the vastness of that landscape. 

And when the world finally recovers from the pandemic and hospitality resumes its high-touch routine, Simoni is optimistic that this whole crisis will create a new category of dining that Bbot is primed to serve.

“There’s going to be a new segment of full-service, made a bit more casual,” Simoni said. “You’re going to have a lot of restaurant entrepreneurs who want to serve great food in an economically efficient way that cuts out some labor costs. Many restaurants need servers, but not all of them do. We’ll be here for them.”