Three Drive-Thru Voice Assistant Brands Will Jockey for for Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. Locations

Three different restaurant conversational AI developers simultaneously announced a deal to bring their respective voice assistants to Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. drive-thrus. OpenCity, Presto Automation, and Valyant AI each signed a deal with CKE Restaurants, the umbrella company for the fast-food chains, to be able to pursue partnerships with both corporate and franchise locations of the quick-service restaurants (QSRs), potentially setting the stage for direct competition among the AI firms.

Drive-Thru Competition

All three voice assistants share similarities in what they offer, though the details can vary significantly. Each takes the role of a human taking an order at the drive-thru, with a synthesized voice to talk to customers and speech-to-text software to then send the final order to the chefs in the kitchen. They can understand natural language well enough to adjust orders throughout the conversation and can be programmed to offer specials and seasonal menus as well as to upsell the customer when appropriate. The AI is often more efficient, with all three brands reporting shortened times spent by customers getting their food. Boston-based OpenCity and its Tori voice assistant are slightly younger than the other two brands but has had some notable success at bringing that efficiency to popular restaurant chains, including a Popeye’s franchise in Louisiana and Panera Bread locations in Rochester, NY.

“The implementation of OpenCity’s AI technology at our drive-thru’s has significantly benefited our business by enhancing the speed and accuracy of order processing, resulting in reduced wait times for customers and increased efficiency for our staff,” said CKE Chief Technology Officer Phil Crawford in a statement about working with OpenCity. “The AI technology has transformed our drive-thru experience, providing us with a competitive edge in the market and helping us to better serve our guests.”

“We’re starting with 34 franchise and corporate restaurants, and we have the immediate opportunity to add 21 more locations. We are in discussions with multiple franchisees representing hundreds of potential units,” Valyant CEO Rob Carpenter told Voicebot in an email interview. “We knew that all three AI companies would be approved. The MSA (Mast Service Agreement) allows us to begin working with franchisees and launching pilots or signing up new restaurants for expansion. The total market opportunity is 3,800 restaurants both domestically and internationally.”

The majority of Valyant’s current Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. clients are franchisees, not corporate-owned locations, though they are split fairly evenly between Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr spots. The Colorado-based Valyant raised several million dollars in equity funding last month to fuel the rapid deployment of its Holly AI ahead of the new partnership. Valyant has experience with franchisees as it also has a deal with Checkers & Rally’s to provide AI to its franchisee-owned drive-thrus.

“As a company, we’re always looking for ways to deliver a better guest experience through the introduction of new, emerging technologies. The AI technology not only delivers on that vision but also enables our franchisees to adopt these new technologies into their tech ecosystem(s) in a streamlined and efficient manner,” Crawford said in a statement about the deal with Valyant. “Additionally, franchisees can leverage the AI technology to cater to the specific needs of their local markets, boosting their competitiveness and profitability.”

Fellow Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., AI provider Presto has the other side of Valyant’s Checkers & Rally’s contract, agreeing to embed a drive-thru voice assistant at 267 corporate-owned locations. Presto, which went public on Nasdaq last year via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), has also begun incorporating new features like a synthetic Santa and other custom voices and announced a pilot test to incorporate generative AI chatbot ChatGPT’s API into its service.

“The entire Presto team is excited to be partnering with CKE, a pioneer and a technology early adopter in the QSR space,” Presto president Dan Mosher said. “CKE recently revolutionized its digital ecosystem and we are confident that Presto is well-suited to support CKE’s growth.”

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