The Future of Hospitality: Q&A with Bbot CEO Steve Simoni
New York City-based software company Bbot (pronounced bee-bot) is setting out to change the way hospitality operators think of efficiency.
“If I sit at a fine-dining restaurant, I want a human interaction with the server,” says CEO Steve Simoni. “But plenty of bars and restaurants just want to get your order and bring you a drink as quickly as possible. We’re helping both kinds of business.”
This mission to help hospitality operators lower costs and boost volume led to Bbot, a next-gen ordering platform that Simoni founded with two friends he met during service in the U.S. Navy. We sat down with Simoni to hear more about the future he envisions for hospitality operations.
SevenRooms: You’ve had a pretty unconventional journey to the hospitality world. How did that happen?
Simoni: I’m an engineer. I majored in electrical engineering in undergrad and nuclear engineering for my master’s. I joined the Navy after college, working on the instrumentation and control systems, and the reactor protection and safety systems for the submarines and aircraft carriers in the fleet. Around 2013, I went to Silicon Valley, where I joined a company called Marketo as a sales engineer. And I really loved working in tech, so together with my background in management from the Navy, I got the idea to start a company.
What led you and your co-founders to start Bbot?
All three of us are engineers, which basically means we’re obsessed with efficiency. We were in a bar in the Bay Area, and someone looked up and noticed: Hey, no one uses the ceilings in bars. The ceilings are totally empty. And then we started thinking, Why don’t we put a robot on the ceiling? Like, one that could bring you drinks. Between the three of us we had the expertise, and we actually made that robot, by ourselves, and started selling it. I still love that idea, to be honest.
Part of the system we developed was an app that let customers order on their own devices, without signing in or creating an account or anything, and sending that to the bartender so they could make the drink. One of our early clients was an outdoor venue, and said, “I don’t have a ceiling, but I could definitely use the ordering platform.” So we’ve been running with that ever since.
So you’re trying to automate food service?
We’re bringing efficiency where it’s needed. Some parts of hospitality you can never automate; the human part is what’s enjoyable. But with online food ordering, automation and a smooth user experience is how the operator delivers better service.
What’s your take on third-party delivery ordering platforms?
I think overall they’re good products, they’re just expensive. Those sites make it easy for users to find your restaurant, but they charge a high commission for it. And then you’re not paying for anything that will bring them back.
Product-wise, we’re better than third-party delivery when it comes to custom features. Similar to how SevenRooms can provide more custom reservation features than a third-party channel, we can provide more custom features around promos and discounts, and make it look and feel like your brand.
Going direct, like how SevenRooms does with direct reservations, is what we’re doing with ordering. That applies to data, too. We let restaurants keep their data. The third-party delivery apps don’t let restaurants have access to customer data.
What’s your advice for restaurants wondering what they should automate?
It just depends on the style of your place. In a white-tablecloth restaurant, personalization is what really matters — not efficiency. But that doesn’t mean a fine dining restaurant can’t use automation. Guest data that they gathered from a previous visit or an online order can help personalize the experience, whether that’s during the in-service experience or post-service marketing, making a guest more likely to come back.
At a place like the Brooklyn Barge, which is one of our biggest customers for in-person ordering, they have a totally different operation. They want to get people drinks and food on-demand, and since speed and through-put is what is most important, a lot of that delivery system can be automated.
What’s your view on the use of data in hospitality?
This is a big part of our personal philosophy at Bbot: I firmly believe that a business — any kind of business — needs to deliver value before asking someone for their data.
A lot of the problems with data come when the customer doesn’t benefit from someone having their data. When it’s only the collector who benefits. So with something like an app sign-up, for example, you’re asking me to create an account and give you my data when you’ve done nothing for me yet.
In hospitality, the entire experience is about delivering value up front. No matter who you are, I’m going to take care of you just because you sat down in my restaurant. So if I, as a customer, know that my customer profile will help you personalize an already great experience, and give me an even better experience next time, then I’m going to tell you about myself. And I’m going to come in again to experience it.