I’m VUI, can I serve you?

In brief
The use of the voice with an electronic device, VUI, until recently would have been looked at with disbelief or even welcomed with sarcasm. Then, smartphones have driven the touch-first charge and VUI, today, is fully part of the real world. Now, it is worth thinking of the voice as agile operational support in restaurants.

Until recently, the use of voice with an electronic device, VUI, would have been looked at with disbelief or even sarcasm. Then, smartphones led the charge for touch-first devices and today VUI has become part of real-world applications. Now, it’s worth thinking of voice as an agile and operational support in catering.

VUI (Voice User Interface) will lead the expansion and evolution of customer experience technologies. If the comparison between producers is, today, still firmly linked to the primacy of smartphones and, in the immediate future, to wearable and IoT devices, the next chapter, in addition to augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), will be on the use of voice.


60 percent of mobile users have tried voice search at least once in the last 12 months and is also used daily by half of younger consumers. Digital voice assistants will form the basis of customer engagement thanks to the adoption of this tool by more than half of families.

VUI, in general, are not new, but they will be so in their future forms and concept of use. The first systems with interactive voice response (IVR) were developed in the early 2000s, but did not immediately find the expected appreciation on the market. The first voice assistant, as we know it today, was Siri, developed by Apple in 2010. Next came Microsoft (2013), Amazon (2014), Google (2016) and then Samsung and Alibaba (2017).

For retailers, the ability to manage orders and acquire customers through a natural-language multi-task system is of strategic importance, albeit with due regard to issues related to brands recognition and privacy concerns that come with conversational interfaces. 


In restaurants, the use of VUI-based devices opens up a number of interesting prospects: simplification of the table attendants’ work and improvement of communication between them and the kitchen, with consequent streamlining and greater speed of operations; increased customer’s autonomy at every stage of his stay in the restaurant, from the choice of the menu to payment; order processing and delivery thereof from outside; customization of the service and enhanced customer loyalty.

Never as in this case, we must not forget the most important thing, i.e. the customer. While taking for granted the increase in demand for VUI in stores and the marked willingness to use it in their relationship with brands, we cannot exclude the awkwardness that many users may experience in the interaction with these technologies.


Looking at those who work in the restaurant room, we must not forget the difficulties often shown in the use of handheld terminals. The simplicity, induced by VUI devices, must be the priority feature, so as to ensure that technology is not an obstacle but an efficient and familiar aid. Clearly, the use of the voice assistant is intended to guarantee the non-intrusiveness of the medium, differently from tablets and other devices. In the case that the voice assistance is used by the waiter, ordering is facilitated and speeds up the work of the personnel allowing to perform at the same time, often necessary, tasks.

To create an effective voice support for restaurant operations, it is necessary to define, as precisely as possible, areas and patterns of conversation between the user and system. For this purpose, it will be essential to outline, on the one hand, a precise ‘personality’ for the voice assistant and, on the other, identify the possible target audience.


Next, the type of voice used by the VUI device must be carefully chosen. There are two possible voice types: synthesized or real. The first allows quick and easy modifications, has low prototyping costs and has built-in localization (enabling to simultaneously develop the same project in different languages), but in terms of naturalness and expressive range it is certainly not comparable to that of a real voice.


Often the wealth of voice information can be just as harmful as the lack of thereof. When designing a voice assistant, quality, quantity and relevance must be considered as decisive factors. The setting of dialogues must avoid ambiguous or too long sentences and, on the contrary, always give priority to clarity, precision and essentiality. This also when handling changes and errors.


The VUI will therefore be a significant step forward in the development of the customer experience for catering businesses. Additional benefits may be identified in the rotation of customers in the restaurant. As more people are served faster and more accurately, also the overall revenue will increase due to the increase of customers.

The VUI also removes language barriers. Simultaneous translations are typical of machine learning systems, and failure to understand the wishes of foreign customers will no longer interfere with or prevent normal operations. There are other examples where this new technology can be implemented and it is certain that it will have a huge impact on the catering industry.


The ‘next normal’ is a very popular term we’re seeing everywhere right now. Voice had been accepted in the way touch-first devices like smartphones took PCs off our desktops and put them in our pockets. Just a few years ago, conversing with a machine would have been viewed with suspicion and perhaps even sarcasm.

Then, the proliferation of voice in mobile devices, cars, smart speakers and computers, made voice communication with devices a de facto norm. Recently British musician Ed Sheeran even released a duet with Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant.

In this perspective, the likelihood of a vocal future for the ordinary consumer experience in a restaurant, or in the delivery of food at home, looks much more like a certainty than an opinion.