Pizza Hut Delivering A Web Virtual Waiter

Pizza Hut is taking the "other people who bought also liked" approach mastered by and is trying to apply it to pizza and breadsticks and their own Web site.

The new feature—dubbed Virtual Waiter and introduced by the fast-food chain on April 24—is based on "technology that gathers data from millions of online orders and suggests menu items that best match customers' orders," according to a company statement.

The service initially sounded like an ordinary Web upsell package, where it would simply suggest a soda purchase for an order of pizzas or a dessert order for a larger order apparently for many people. But a demo of the service suggested it might be more sophisticated than that.

An order for a particular kind of pizza was supposed to have a dessert suggested, for example, but it didn't. A glitch? Apparently not. Given that the ZIP code of the tested (yours truly) was more than a thousand miles away from the ZIP code of the tester, differences in recommendations were noted.

Pizza Hut spokesman Chris Fuller, who was giving the demo, said that the database recognized that dessert was not typically purchased in this ZIP code, whereas it was in others.

In other words, the database didn't merely analyze all orders for patterns. It looked at geography and fine-tuned those recommendations.

This is the latest in a series of Web features that the pizza chains have been trying out, as they try and compete with each other as well as with local pizza parlors.

"It's pretty fiercely competitive in the pizza category right now," Fuller said.

Dominos, for example, recently pushed out a Pizza Tracker system, which claims to provide minute-by-minute status of where the pizza is, as it moves from prep, baking, boxing and delivery.

None of the chains, though, seems to have the kind of GPS tracking that FedEx uses, which can make a lot of these "updates" silly.

The delays usually kick in after the order has left the store. If the last status is "out for delivery," that's not especially informative when the pizza is 40 minutes late. Is the driver 30 seconds away or has he been arrested for drunk driving?