Would You Like Fries With That? Speech Technology at the Drive-Thru

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Gone are the days of waiting in long lines to place an order at favorite fast-food restaurants. Speech-recognition technology is replacing the wait time with speedy service and streamlined processes to get hungry diners in, out, and on their way. 

McDonald’s recently announced its intended acquisition of Apprente, the voice-recognition company known for its ability to take drive-thru orders at Quick Service Restaurants (QSRs). Other companies such as Grub Hub, Denny’s, and Pizza Hut are already integrated with Amazon’s Alexa app, making it easier than ever for famished individuals to get dinner on the go. 

Food Apps Already Embracing Voice-Ordering

While using an online app to order food is handy, voice-recognition software streamlines the process even further, says Todd Mozer, CEO of Sensory. He used pizza as an example. “Swiping and tapping out a pizza order is time-consuming because it involves hunting through dozens of size, crust style, sauce, and toppings options to craft the perfect pie,” Mozer says. “Whereas saying a pizza order only takes seconds, ‘Large, hand-tossed, pepperoni and mushroom with red sauce, well done.’” 

Ordering isn’t the only part of the restaurant’s process where speech technology can be a benefit. Anu Adeboje, marketing and sales associate at Sensory, says that the advantages are twofold. “First, it enables restaurants to offer a consistent and branded voice experience across multiple touchpoints,” utilizing a mobile app, at a kiosk or a drive-thru ordering platform for instance. 

Quicker ordering experience and a shorter time spent in lines are two benefits. “Second, the restaurants will be able to use AI to unlock data about the customer. Voice is rich with data and this will enable smarter recommendations—upsell—and real-time satisfaction measurements,” says Adeboje.

Personalization Through Voice Biometrics

Demographic information about customers can all be extracted from speech, Adeboie notes. Age, gender and emotion are woven into voice. “The potential of unlocking the data layered within human speech is where it starts to get really exciting,” says Adeboie. This type of data is what speech-recognition software companies like Sensory have been focusing on. “Our current software enables much more than just an accurate order and these capabilities will continue to grow,” says Adeboie.

It may seem ironic that the “old-fashioned” way of doing business—getting to know customers and their preferences—is being utilized by high-tech companies to create a personal brand experience. Still, there’s a reason that the personal touch works so well. 

Think back to the local mom and pop store where every customer was greeted by name or to a favorite small diner, where the waitress knew without asking, exactly the way customers liked their eggs cooked. Voice-recognition software provides that personal touch, helping restaurants to provide a custom experience while simultaneously saving time and positively impacting the brand’s recognition.  

The Next Revolution is QSRs

Another area where speech technology can benefit restaurants is in the elimination or reduction of annoying background noise. “When dealing with speech in the real world, background noise is always a concern. For example, the hum of a car engine running in the drive-thru, or the chatter of multiple people in the general area,” Adeboje says. “There are definitely some opportunities for speech tech vendors that provide innovative solutions for background noise.” 

When the “Speedee Service System,” America’s first take on fast-food, was unveiled by the McDonald brothers in the 1940s, no one could have anticipated its growth or long-term success. In another century, will Americans be looking back on our current speech technology systems in restaurants as the start of something equally innovative? Only time will tell. 

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