Will a bot soon be taking your order at the drive-thru?
When you visit the quick-serve drive-thru, the voice taking your order might not be human — if one new startup is successful.
Clinc, a company based in Ann Arbor, MI, shared a demo of its new artificial intelligence (AI) voice assistant for drive-thru windows with TechCrunch. Customers are addressed by a robot voice and reply using their natural, conversational speech patterns. The system accepts and interprets unstructured voice input, so it does not require a person who is ordering to go through a menu tree.
Clinc’s solution comes at a time when technological innovations are shaking up many of the mainstay positions of fast food employment.
McDonald’s, for instance, began rolling out self-serve kiosk-based ordering globally in 2014 and began implementing the kiosks in U.S. locations in 2016. In June, the chain announced that it planned to increase the rollout to 1,000 stores every quarter for the next eight to nine quarters, until the entire chain has automated ordering.
Such automation has been controversial as it removes the need to employ people to take orders, though advocates point to automated ordering opening up more productive positions. In fact, the franchise owner of the new Chicago flagship stated in a Bloomberg article that, since the introduction of kiosks, the location now employs more people (though McDonald’s declined to say how many).
In the past few years, other startups have been working on solutions to automate the backend of the QSR experience. Earlier this year, Bay Area startup Creator launched its AI-enabled, fully-automated burger restaurant. Before that, the chain Caliburger announced plans to implement Flippy, an automated burger flipper, in 10 of its locations.
But quick-serve drive-thrus have their own unique set of problems with slowdowns and bottlenecks that an automated chatbot may or may not successfully address.
For example, a few years ago, Starbucks became a victim of its own success when the introduction of mobile app pre-ordering led to long lines for pickup both at drive-thrus and inside stores.
- Clinc is building a voice AI system to replace humans in drive-through restaurants – TechCrunch
- The McDonald’s of the Future leans fast casual – RetailWire
- McDonald’s Kiosks Mean More Staff at Chicago Flagship, Not Fewer – Bloomberg
- Is making burgers now a job for robots? – RetailWire
- Will mobile order and pay-only stores improve Starbucks’ operational performance? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should QSRs be thinking seriously about automating the drive-thru experience with voice assistant technology? What do you see as the pros and cons?