Technology

This Philly bubble tea shop is letting AI run its marketing

Mi ’N Tea owner Kim Dieu had little time to create promos herself, so she turned to a new tool from POS provider SpotOn for help.
Mi 'N Tea used AI to create a Super Bowl deal. | Photo courtesy of Mi 'N Tea

About four years ago, Kim Dieu and her brother, Troy, helped their parents achieve their lifelong dream of opening a restaurant.

Mi ’N Tea debuted in April 2020 in Philadelphia’s Manayunk neighborhood. It was not an ideal time to open a restaurant, but the banh mi and bubble tea concept made it through the pandemic and is now thriving, with plans to open a second location soon.

Still, operating a family-run restaurant is never easy, even without a pandemic. Dieu is in charge of Mi ’N Tea’s marketing, but she often found herself so busy working in the actual restaurant that she had little time for it. 

“I couldn’t find the time of day, working 12-hour shifts, to sit down and map out my campaigns,” she said. 

And when she was able to carve out an hour to set up an email blast—usually once a month—she still had no idea whether people were even clicking or redeeming the promotion she created.

So Dieu was eager to try a new tool offered by her POS supplier, SpotOn, that uses automation and artificial intelligence to create marketing campaigns. 

To use Marketing Assist, an operator enters some basic information, like their restaurant’s cuisine type, marketing goals and deal preferences. The tool then uses AI to generate emails and social media posts, complete with photos and copy.

SpotOn, which works with small and medium-sized restaurants, says it’s the first POS company to offer such a feature. 

Marketing Assist has helped Mi ’N Tea do more marketing in less time. Dieu used to spend hours setting up a single campaign; she now takes about 30 minutes every couple weeks to create multiple promos.

“It’s been saving me a lot of time just having the text there, having imagery there, having it all laid out,” she said. The tool can also identify promotional opportunities like holidays or sporting events and craft offers around them. 

Last month, for instance, Mi ’N Tea used Marketing Assist to send customers an email tied to the Super Bowl. Titled “Ready for the Big Game?,” it offered guests 5% off their order and encouraged them to “grab some banh mi’s to enjoy the game!”

Mi N Tea

 An AI-generated offer from Mi 'N Tea. | Image courtesy of Mi 'N Tea

It’s nothing fancy, but it’s the kind of thing that many small restaurants simply don’t have the time or resources to pull off on their own, said SpotOn CMO Kevin Bryla.

“For independent restaurants, this is a great way to be in the game,” he said. 

Marketing Assist costs $95 a month by itself and less when bundled with other SpotOn features.

It comes as restaurants increasingly turn to AI as an answer to their labor woes. According to a recent survey of 2,000 operators by Square, an astonishing 98% said they think AI can help with staffing challenges. Another report from TouchBistro found that 9 out of 10 full-service operators are already using the technology, which can automate tasks typically done by humans.

That has coincided with a flood of AI-powered products that promise to help restaurants do everything from answer the phone to bake bread. But there’s a big question hovering over this fresh tech boom: Does it work?

SpotOn says its AI-generated emails get more clicks and redemptions than those written by humans. Marketing Assist emails boast a 9.55% open rate, compared to 7.79% for manual emails. Bryla said this is because the AI is always learning and improving. 

“Part of what we train the AI up on is, what are the subject lines that work? What words or language triggers opens?” he said. “As we train it, it gets better at optimizing things like headlines and pictures.”  

Mi ’N Tea has also noticed a difference since handing the marketing reins to AI, including a bump in sales and a better handle into how campaigns are performing.

“I’m able to actually put a number to what I’m pushing out,” Dieu said. A recent email got 400 people to open it and 36 to redeem the coupon inside—an almost 10% hit rate.

Bryla said AI is now table stakes for tech companies and will continue to play a bigger role in all businesses. But he doesn’t expect restaurants to be experts at it.

“AI is moving so fast and it’s so diverse that it’s very, very hard to stay on top of, especially for SMBs,” he said. “Tech providers have to make it simple.” 

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