Concessionaire to test Google Assistant Interpreter, starting in back-of-house operations

A futuristic universal language translator – like the one from “Star Trek” — is beaming into select sports stadiums serviced by concessionaire Delaware North sometime this year.

The Google Assistant Interpreter was introduced last year and finished testing at Dream Downtown New York City, Caesars Las Vegas and the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport, among other locations in 2019. Delaware North will be the first hospitality company to use the software.

The interpreter works in real time. The user speaks a language into the system and it is translated into one of 29 other languages: Arabic, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Filipino (Tagalog), Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian and Vietnamese.

The translator software was brought to Delaware North’s attention through its partnership with Google.

“Our company core value is to create the best customer experience we can,” said Jason Wilkinson, chief information officer for Delaware North. “Google has some fantastic capabilities and the Assistant Interpreter is something we wanted to be a part of as soon as we discovered it.”

Delaware North licenses the software from Google, and it will operate on a number of devices, such as Google Home and personal devices both iOS- and android-based. The company did not reveal its financial arrangement with Google.

The concessionaire sees the new technology as a digital concierge for natural language translation.

“If you were a guest speaking Italian at one of our properties, the system will allow us to translate that Italian into any of the other languages in the database,” Wilkinson said.

For the initial pilot, Delaware North will test the system in its back-of-house operations.

“We’re looking at the employee experience to start,” Wilkinson said. “We want to focus on the translation experience between an employee (and) other employees, as well as their managers. For that to work we’re envisioning a device in the manager’s office, in the employee check-in area, and on the manager’s personal phone device.”

Wilkinson said the translator was needed because some of their workers speak a limited amount of English.

“Being a global company, foreign languages are being used in almost every venue we operate in,” he said. “This is a way to make sure we are communicating with them properly and efficiently. If in the kitchen people are speaking predominantly English and we have a non-English speaker there, if that person can ask the question, get clarification or instruction in real time and seamlessly and have both parties understand the question as well as the response, it would be a nice win for us.”

The test will also give Delaware North experience with the translator before introducing it to paying guests.

“We don’t want to promise something to our guests that’s not going to happen,” he said. “As a new technology offering, we want to try it out with our employees. We’re hoping to roll it out pretty quickly following a trial for our visitors, too, with a guest-facing device that is part of a digital concierge experience.”

Wilkinson also pointed out that any clients of the company that are intrigued by the Assistant Interpreter will want to see proof that the system works, and works well, before allowing the translators to be used by the fans.

“We need to prove the concept,” he said.

One venue that will most assuredly get the translator is TD Garden in Boston, which is owned by Jerry Jacobs, who also owns Delaware North.

“We have to test it in our own backyard,” Wilkinson said. “We’ll know within 30 days if there’s any significant risks or critical test stoppers and then we’ll make a decision if it’s something we want to introduce in prime time. If so, we’ll try it in another four to five venues in their back-of-house.”

After those tests, the system will be evaluated for use with the general public, the company hopes, by the end of the year.

“I could see it being used in many of our locations to help answer questions the guests may have,” he said. “We want to move ahead with it quickly. This is the future. I’ve got three kids and I brought them to a sporting event and showed them a self-serving kiosk. The two teenagers marched up and entered their orders. My 10-year-old asked why he couldn’t just speak to the kiosk. I think that’s the direction we are all headed.”

The system is now being used at the Delaware North corporate offices in Buffalo, N.Y.