Voice Assistant Starts Taking Orders at Chicken Drive-Thru Restaurant Chain
A voice assistant has begun handling drive-thru orders for Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken Restaurant. The conversational AI built by Israeli startup Hi Auto and powered by Intel processors is the latest experiment in integrating a voice assistant into a restaurant drive-thru to make the whole system more efficient.
Drivers coming up to Lee’s will be welcomed by the voice assistant. The Intel-powered AI will take orders, make suggestions, and answer questions about the menu. Should there be a question or issue the AI can’t work out how to respond to, it will alert and transfer over to a human Lee’s employee to handle things. The AI is built into the same system running on the headsets worn by Lee’s employees, which allows them to alert the AI with inventory updates as needed. Just not needing to tell the customer to hold on while checking something gets people through the restaurant more quickly in general, and the AI is getting faster as it learns.
“The automated AI drive-thru has impacted my business in a simple way. We don’t have customers waiting anymore,” said Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken Restaurant in Englewood, Ohio Chuck Doran. “It’s amazing to see the level of accuracy with the voice recognition technology, which helps speed up service. It can even suggest additional items based on the order, which helps us increase our sales.”
The AI, which first began taking orders a year ago, tries to upsell to about 60% of visitors, succeeding about 20% of the time. That’s somewhat remarkable compared to the human upsell rate of between 5% and 15%, yet the same success rate. That means the AI boosts revenue by 2%.
Food for Thought
Drive-thrus are a growing market for conversational AI, with new restaurants trying out the concept continually popping up. , in particular, have jumped on the idea. Mastercard and SoundHound started a project in September to have a voice assistant take drive-thru orders and process payments, starting with White Castle and Sonic. Meanwhile, Colorado-based Valyant AI has incorporated its own voice assistant into Denver’s Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custard and raised $4.5 million at the end of November. The biggest name in drive-thrus, McDonald’s, even acquired voice tech startup Apprente specifically to help develop voice assistant-powered drive-thrus like the ones it started testing in Illinois. The COVID-19 health crisis has also served to boost interest in the concept due to limited in-person restaurant attendance. According to research by the NPD Group, there was a 22% jump in drive-thru orders last year, but the time for completing an order also rose 30 seconds, possibly because more cars made their way through the line.
Hi Auto raised $8 million in a seed funding round led by Plug and Play and Zohar Zisapel last year and has ambitions for spreading its AI to more Lee’s locations and other restaurants. The startup is also working on a Spanish-speaking version of the AI to expand a drive-thru’s capabilities.
“At Lee’s, we met a team that puts its heart and soul into serving its customers,” Hi Auto CEO Roy Baharav said. “We operationalized our AI system based on what we learned from the owners, general managers and employees. They have embraced the solution and within a short time began reaping the benefits. We are now applying the process and lessons learned at additional customer sites.”