Checkers Rolls-Out Drive-Thru Voice Assistant at 267 Restaurants
Checkers and Rally’s drive-thru restaurants have begun installing a voice assistant created by hospitality tech developer Presto in 267 restaurants. This is the largest single rollout of voice AI for drive-thrus so far, part of an accelerating interest and adoption of the technology at restaurants.
The drive-thru voice assistant interacts with drivers when they pull up. The AI can take orders, understand basic questions, and even up-sell specials or deals available at the restaurant. Presto created the actual voice element with conversational AI startup Hi Auto, the startup behind the voice assistant at Ohio chicken restaurant chain Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken Restaurant. Presto also develops similar AI for inside restaurants at kiosks and tables. Presto ran a pilot program of the voice AI for Checkers & Rally’s last year for four months. The study found little or no need for human intervention in 98% of drive-thru orders. Presto noted that the AI dealt with uncommon menu items ordered in many accents during that time. The tech will be deployed to all corporate-owned, as opposed to franchised, Checkers & Rally’s restaurants in the U.S. this year.
“We’re excited to be selected by Checkers & Rally’s as their exclusive drive-thru automated speech recognition partner for all their corporate-owned locations,” Presto CEO Rajat Suri said. “Checkers & Rally’s desire to take the industry forward through disruptive innovation is inspiring, and Presto is fully committed to supporting this bold vision.”
The 14-year-old startup was founded at M.I.T. but is now in Silicon Valley and counts several restaurant chains as clients, with a quarter of a million systems shipped. The company is planning on going public on Nasdaq this year as Presto Technologies through a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) named Ventoux CCM Acquisition Corp.
Restaurant Voice AI
The growth of restaurant-centered voice AI has seen some important advances over the last couple of years. Wendy’s started to move toward the tech a few months ago by partnering with Google Cloud as its tech provider for creating a voice assistant. The biggest recent news naturally dealt with McDonald’s, which sold McD Tech Labs to IBM and began a collaboration to develop an automated drive-thru service. The restaurant chain had formed McD Tech Labs in 2019 after acquiring voice tech startup Apprente and bringing its AI research in-house.
On the startup side, Colorado-based Valyant AI added a voice assistant into Denver’s Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custard in 2019 and has since leveraged a $4.5 million funding round for further growth. ConverseNow brought in even more cash with a $15 million funding round last July. Similar tech is undergoing pilot programs and development, such as SoundHound’s voice assistant at some White Castle and Sonic restaurants. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shift in consumer and labor markets are giving the tech a push too. According to research by the NPD Group, there was a 22% jump in drive-thru orders in 2020, but the time for completing an order also rose 30 seconds, which voice assistants could help reduce.
Checkers cited both the technology and a labor shortage as reasons for the decision. The U.S. Labor Department reported 920,000 people left jobs at restaurants and hotels in November alone, part of a pattern of departures this year. The company was quick to add that it’s not replacing existing employees, just focusing them on the roles that need more of a human touch and that the tech is upping the numbers and speed of hiring employees.
“Checkers & Rally’s is the pioneer of the double drive-thru restaurant model, so our decision to again lead the industry with the largest rollout of an A.I.-based voice assistant solution should be no surprise,” Checkers & Rally’s CEO Frances Allen said. “We are excited about this new era in partnership with Presto, a leader in the restaurant hospitality technology field. As a company, we embrace technology that will help our team members maximize time and efficiency while making their jobs easier and more enjoyable, creating a better experience for them as well as our guests.”