White Castle is taking drive-thru orders using an AI voice system that claims to be more accurate than a human

  • White Castle uses SoundHound's voice AI system to take drive-thru orders at 15 restaurants.

  • White Castle says the aim is to free up time for staff and make sure customers don't feel rushed placing their orders.

  • SoundHound, which also works with Panda Express and Chipotle, claims that its tech is "more accurate than a human."

Go to a White Castle restaurant in St Louis, Cincinnati, or Merrillville Indiana, and you may have the option to place your order with someone called Julia.

Julia isn't a cashier, though. Julia is a voice AI.

White Castle is just one in a long line of restaurant chains toying with drive-thrus powered by voice-recognition AI. Chains such as Taco Bell, McDonald's, and Checkers & Rally's have all tested or introduced voice AI drive-thrus.

The aim is to use the tech to free up workers' time so restaurants can either reallocate staff away from order-taking to roles that can't be automated or simply cut their labor costs by reducing the number of workers they need to operate.

But voice AI drive-thrus are far from achieving widespread adoption.

Firstly, they still make mistakes. Last year, restaurant-tech company Presto Automations revealed in an SEC filing that over 70% of its voice AI orders required assistance from off-site human workers. And McDonald's was mocked on TikTok over issues with its voice AI-powered drive-thrus. McDonald's is ending its test with IBM and pulling the technology from its restaurants.

And some critics fear that widespread use of AI at restaurants will ultimately put workers out of jobs, too.

White Castle started using SoundHound's AI voice-recognition services in a restaurant in Merrillville in 2022, Jamie Richardson, White Castle's VP of marketing and publication relations, told Business Insider.

The burger chain now uses it at 15 restaurants, some of which use it for multiple drive-thru lanes, he said.

White Castle previously announced plans to deploy it in more than 100 drive-thru lanes by the end of 2024. Richardson confirmed that it's on track to reach this target.

He said that White Castle's voice AI system was designed to remove a "stress-inducing situation," freeing up time for staff who have to multitask at the drive-thru and taking the time pressure off customers who may otherwise feel rushed. Orders are more accurate, too, he said.

Richardson said that White Castle hadn't cut workers' hours at its restaurants since adding the technology. Instead, workers can focus on preparing food and greeting customers at the drive-thru window when they collect their order, he said.

"It's really been a great investment and one we're eager to continue," he said.

AI was used to solve the labor crunch

Restaurant executives have been paying attention to voice AI drive-thrus for years, but a struggle to recruit and retain workers in the summer of 2021 intensified this.

SoundHound is one of a growing number of companies offering voice AI services to restaurants.

"We're more accurate than a human," Ben Bellettini, SoundHound's senior vice president of restaurant sales, told BI.

If customers don't want to order using the voice AI system, they can ask to speak to a human, he said. But "well over 90%" of orders don't involve any human interaction, he said.

SoundHound says that using its voice AI drive-thru is faster than ordering at a human agent because customers don't have to wait for a cashier to be free when they pull up to the ordering station or wait for them to manually enter orders into their till.

SoundHound doesn't just offer services for drive-thrus. It also provides voice AI tech for restaurants to take orders over the phone and at digital kiosks and offers back-of-house technology where staff can ask questions through a tablet or headset and get information from their employee handbook on what to do if the fridge breaks or how to clean the fryer.

Read the original article on Business Insider