Did the Google Translate restaurant signal a new venture for Alphabet?

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Last week, Alphabet promoted Google Translate in an unusual but intuitive way. Opening a four-day-only restaurant in Manhattan, customers were asked to utilize the translation service to figure out their menus. Sampling cuisine from around the world, you might think this is a pretty simple promo for Google as a brand.

Well, not really.

“Languages from around the world will be your guide as our guest chefs take you on a journey through the lens of food — our universal language,” went the underline for the promo, as if languages aren’t from around the world.

Under their #EveryoneSpeaksFood hashtag, they opened Small World, booking four top notch chefs and their different culinary styles to take the mantle each day. Einat Admony led the way with modernist versions of traditional Israeli cuisine (no word on if it was kosher), Joseph “JJ” Johnson showed off Afro-Asian-American styles, Gerardo Gonzalez displayed mastery of the Mexican kitchen, and Danny Bowien cooked up stuff from the Asian palate.

Small World took a small chunk of restaurant-going business over the weekend. Will it get eateries to help push Google Translate on their tourist customers (image, @google on Twitter)
Small World took a small chunk of restaurant-going business over the weekend. Will it get eateries to help push Google Translate on their tourist customers? Photo credit: @google via Twitter

Google Translate gets somewhere in the neighborhood of 750 million visits a month. It is an incredibly pervasive service that helps everyone from high school students learning Spanish to those rough-translating entire news articles. The most frequent use of the service might be to figure out individual words: While users are accustomed to not trusting an AI for a perfect translation of intricate grammar and syntax, they can rely on an instant list of options for a single word or clause that you can interpret for yourself.

Small World, a pop-up restaurant themed completely around Google Translate, might be trying to push the service into more routine parts of life
Small World, a pop-up restaurant themed completely around Google Translate, might be trying to push the service into more routine parts of life. Photo credit: @google via Twitter

With that, Translate is very suitable for lists. Maybe your Yiddishe Mamma wants to buy some of your groceries for you while you are at home with a newborn but hasn’t figured how how to say “formula”: Translate can figure that one out for you.

But that’s not the focus here. Alphabet seems to have realized the extent of its current product’s power. The most common list without any of those grammatical and syntactic drawbacks of complicated translations is the restaurant menu. Alphabet wants to raise awareness of that.

Google Translate's chefs cooked up a blended palate of a storm (images, Goog-, ergh, Alphabet)
Google Translate’s chefs cooked up a blended palate of a storm. Image credit: Alphabet

Google Translate is up against some competition. Microsoft Translator has begun offering offline translation, while Russia’s Yandex Translate has an advantage on minor Central Asian languages (and Elvish!) that Google hasn’t budgeted time nor money to index.

But Alphabet has the whims and the wit to run random promotions and hire four expert chefs for four days just to promote a service that is more a free service than it is a business. Google Translate has the name recognition. It has the brand. It wants to retain that market share before it allows other technology giants to assume some chunk of that public awareness.

The mission here, which they still have some work to do if they want to complete, is to break a simply linear association of Google Translate with the office. If Alphabet can continue to improve its sign-recognition software, and go all out with these sorts of promotions in the future, they might be able to associate Google Translate with luxury dining for high-rolling tourists and business travelers, or off-the-beaten-track trekkers dropping in on lodges in rural India or the Andes Mountains.

Image credits: @google on Twitter

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