May 21, 2024 - News

Generative AI hits Bentonville's fine dining

Illustration of a cursor holding a wine glass.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

It's a sommelier bot. A wine whisperer. A way to impress your date à la Cyrano de Bergerac. The Preacher's Son in Bentonville last week quietly launched an AI chatbot that will recommend wine pairings.

  • It's called Becca, the preacher's daughter.

Why it matters: Generative AI can make quick work of the mundane, but some fear a homogenization effect, reducing spontaneous creativity as it feeds on its own input-output over and over.

The big picture: Most restaurant use of AI leans into improving efficiency — customer orders, pantry forecasting, cooking — for quick-service establishments.

  • But some high-end applications are emerging — AI-inspired dishes and decor are coming, Nation's Restaurant News reports, in an effort to elevate the customer experience.

How it works: Becca is a chatbot located on the Preacher's Son website, in the lower-right portion of its menu page.

  • Tell it of any special occasion for your visit and what dish you're craving. It returns a conversational response tailored to your input.

Its interactions are programmed to match the "personality" of the Preacher's Son and will point you toward an available wine or a cocktail from the bar.

Case in point: Axios told Becca it was a date night, we wanted to buy by the glass and requested a good high-end and middle-priced wine that goes best with the short rib.

  • "For a high-end red wine by the glass to pair with the short rib, I would recommend the Château la Grangère Grand Cru from St. Emilion, France," Becca said. It's $23 a glass.
  • There was also a midrange option — Lamole di Lamole "Maggiolo" Chianti Classico from Italy — at $14 a glass.

Yes, but: Next, Axios asked for "super cheap" options and Becca recommended a Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon, for $15 per glass — more costly than its midrange Italian wine.

Context: The Preacher's Son is operated by Ropeswing, a part of the Runway Group holding company owned by Walmart founder Sam Walton's grandsons, Steuart and Tom Walton.

Between the lines: The chatbot won't likely be a moneymaker for the restaurant, but Ropeswing rejected the term "gimmick."

  • The tech may help people feel less intimidated about making a wine selection and more open to talking with the server, Emmanuel Gardinier, president of hospitality operations for Ropeswing, told Axios.
  • When Gardinier played with the application, Becca recommended a wine from South Africa with which he was unfamiliar.

What they're saying: Thomas Altman, chief innovation officer of startup BettyBot AI, lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and happens to be a certified sommelier.

  • "If you've got your wine cellar stored in a database … and find the top three recommendations and describe them, I think it would do a phenomenal job," he said.

What we're watching: Gardinier said he'd like to use the technology to make meal recommendations, but that food allergies present several challenges.

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