Drive-Thru Technologies: AI Just Clocked In

Drive-Thru Technologies: AI Just Clocked In

Well before 2020 and COVID-19 hit, drive-thru service has been extremely popular in the U.S, and becoming more and more popular in other countries. According to a report by QSR Magazine, most major fast-food and fast casual restaurants report that drive thru service makes up a significant 70 percent of their sales. When you consider that the quick service restaurant (QSR) industry in the U.S. is worth over US$256 billion, it’s clear how very important fast and accurate service is to profitability. It’s why many fast-food restaurants are turning towards artificial intelligence to improve efficiencies and as a result, their bottom line.

Frustration at the drive-thru

Although drive-thrus account for such a large proportion of sales, it’s an area that can cause the most frustration for customers and employees alike.

Employees are dealing with orders from multiple lanes, processing payments, scanning loyalty cards and packaging food, now with all the COVID-safety precautions on top of it all. Mobile ordering apps and self-service kiosks add to the chaos and frustration. For many workers, the multitude of tasks compared to their salary level are simply not worth the stress.

It’s easy to see by looking at the staff turnover numbers. A university study reports that the turnover rate in the fast-food industry is 150 percent, the highest since reporting began in 1995.

A high staff turnover rate means restaurants are either understaffed or operating with employees who are not fully trained. This has a direct result on the performance efficiency of the fast-food restaurant. 

And of course, the longer the wait times, the longer the lines, and the more frustrated customers become. Providing a quicker and more accurate service could be the difference between a restaurant’s growth or stagnation. 

How Can Artificial Intelligence Revolutionize Your DriveThru

Voice-based technology that can deliver human-level customer service is destined to forever change the way drive thru operate.  Powered in part by Natural Language Processing (NLP) and automated speech technology (ASR), conversational AI can recognize text and speech to mimic realistic human conversation when taking food and beverage orders. This will not only reduce service time, but also increase accuracy and boost profitability.

Here are four ways AI will drive the next generation of drive-thru restaurants:

  • Speed: If there is a long queue at a drive-thru restaurant, customers are likely to drive away. When you’re dealing in fast food, seconds matter.  In 2018, Valyant AI piloted a voice-based assistant to take orders at a drive-thru in Colo., which resulted in a 10 to 25 percent reduction in average wait time. Some customers reported that their wait time reduce by a staggering 50 percent. McDonald’s is also harnessing the power of AI to speed its service offering. Services underneath the golden arches will soon result in faster order taking and will offer customers “a more consistent and pleasurable customer service experience with robotic agents never sounding tired, annoyed, unhappy or angry.”
  • Accuracy: Voice-enabled AI assistants are being piloted across drive thru operations in the US. So far the testing is showing an 85 percent accuracy rate, and can even recall previous customer orders, making ordering not only faster, but also more accurate. The systems currently testing in the drive thru markets still struggle with accents, improper grammar, and messy language, but more data will improve understanding. With high-quality speech data sets, machine learning engineers can train systems to understand and provide relevant and responses.
  • Profitability: AI drive thru technology can recall previous orders and remind customers of them using a voice prompt. The more orders a customer makes, the more the system will learn about their preferences and dislikes. This will allow the system to promote items which have a higher chance of being sold. 
  • Experience: Never grumpy, never angry, never tired. AI-powered voice assistants will provide customers with a consistently pleasurable experience, no matter how rude or short the customer is. Sentiment analysis can also assist voice assistants to detect the emotions of customers from the tone of their voice and respond in a suitable manner. 

Smarter Drive-Thrus

There are many benefits to automating the ordering process of drive-thrus. AI-powered voice assistants can reduce the stress levels of employees, increase accuracy of order taking, increase the value of orders by up-selling and provide customers with a more personalized experience. Ultimately these benefits work together to drive sales and profitability.