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Rally's and Checkers are using AI chatbots for Spanish-language food orders

The not-yet-reliable automation is designed to cut down on labor costs.

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Checkers and Rally's restaurants have launched the first Spanish ordering system that uses AI, Checkers restaurants announced. The system from a company called Hi Auto is already in use at 350 of those restaurants, following two months of beta testing at five locations. The service allows for a more "inclusive environment" by accommodating Spanish speakers, the company said, but it remains to be seen whether customers or employees will embrace it.

The system takes orders via a virtual assistant and detects the customer's language spoken, automatically switching between English and Spanish. Hi Auto says it has "unique customization capabilities" that let franchises easily scale the system up. The company promises to streamline ordering with a greater than 95 percent order accuracy rate.

"Our expanded partnership with Checkers and Rally’s represents a huge breakthrough for the country’s Spanish-speaking and bilingual communities, and allows every restaurant to cater to the Spanish speaking population at any time," said Hi Auto CEO Roy Baharav.

AI drive-through order-taking is a unique challenge, however, thanks to an environment that tends to be noisy and chaotic. "You may think driving by and speaking into a drive-thru is an easy problem for AI, but it’s actually one of the hardest," Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian recently told The Wall Street Journal in reference to the company's recent collaboration with Wendy's. And the tech isn't necessarily reliable, either. The WSJ reported that three people out of 10 using AI systems asked to speak with a human employee due to errors or the desire to speak to a person.

Hi Auto is up against some giants, as well. One of the first companies to look at the tech was McDonald's, which teamed up with IBM to accelerate its own AI ordering systems, and starting testing them in 10 Chicago-area restaurants last year. It's also competing with Google Cloud, which is testing its systems at White Castle on top of Wendy's.

The system does offer features restaurant chains want, though. It can "upsell relentlessly" on items like deserts and french fries, resulting in higher orders, according to CNN. It may also allow restaurants to cut employees, boosting their bottom lines but reducing the number of jobs available to young people. That said, the restaurant with the highest customer service marks last year was Chick-fil-A, thanks in part to its face-to-face human ordering system, according to a recent survey from Intouch Insight.