White Castle Unveils Ambitious Plan: Voice AI for 100+ Drive-Thrus

White Castle Unveils Ambitious Plan: Voice AI for 100+ Drive-Thrus
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The chain is automating its drive-thru order taking in partnership with SoundHound, which claims its technology can process orders within 60 seconds.

Dive Brief

  • White Castle will roll out voice AI at select drive-thrus through a partnership with SoundHound, the companies wrote in a press release emailed to Restaurant Dive.
  • The technology will be added to over 100 White Castle drive-thrus by the end of 2024. Many of these drive-thru lanes will operate 24/7.
  • White Castle originally tested drive-thru AI in 2020 through a partnership with Mastercard, in which SoundHound provided voice recognition and Rekor Systems offered vehicle recognition. This trial served as an “incubation phase” for the companies, and SoundHound now works directly with White Castle.

Dive Insight

White Castle has been an early adopter of restaurant automation, bringing Miso’s fry cook robot, Flippy 2, to roughly 100 locations last year. Drive-thru voice AI promises similar labor savings, and can boost revenue with more consistent upsells.

SoundHound claims that it has a 90% order completion rate, that average orders are taken and processed within 60 seconds and that it has “consistent, reliable and ‘always on’ performance.” The company said it is based “on complete end-to-end AI” and doesn’t use a human-assisted system. SoundHound’s tech can be used across multiple channels, including kiosk and phone, and locations.

Several other QSRs have been testing drive-thru AI, as well. Earlier this year, CKE partnered with three tech firms – Presto Automation, OpenCity and Valyant AI – to test the technology. Wendy’s partnered with Google to test drive-thru AI, called Wendy’s FreshAI, this year. Del Taco and Checkers & Rally’s also partnered with Presto for its drive-thru voice AI technology. Checkers & Rally’s has also been testing Valyant AI’s system at franchisee drive-thrus. Last year, Panera piloted OpenCity’s AI voice technology at two locations in New York.

Not all pilots have gone well, however. Last year, a BTIG report revealed that McDonald’s drive-thru voice AI test was underperforming. Accuracy rates were in the low 80% range versus the 95%-plus order accuracy needed for wider adoption. Later that year, CEO Chris Kempczinski said that automation is not the “silver bullet” for the chain’s challenges and wouldn’t be practical for a bulk of its restaurants.

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