voice technology

Voice technology: a long-term staffing solution?

Ask many experts and they will say that foodservice — despite the pain of the pandemic, inflation, staffing crises, and other problems — is in the middle of a great leap forward in technological advancement right now. Automation in the kitchen, the dining room, and beyond is propelling an evolution of the way restaurants do business, and voice technology is one such cog in the machine.

More and more restaurateurs have been turning to voice technology such as conversational AI ordering systems to help them meet and increase their orders with the resources they have available. In recent months, many restaurants, mostly casual dining and quick-service establishments, have been dispensing with direct phone lines, opting instead to divert customer calls to voice bots.

Multiple advantages

The benefits, if executed properly, are myriad, particularly at a time when the majority of restaurant operators across North America say that they don’t have enough employees to support customer demand or to operate at full efficiency.

SoundHound AI, an artificial intelligence voice platform, is one company helping to facilitate this. It launched an offering earlier in 2022 that allows restaurants to automate phone ordering, integrating the feature with Square’s point-of-sale systems to uswe conversational AI technology to answer phone calls, take orders, accept modifications, and send confirmations to complete payments.

James Hom, SoundHound’s Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer, writes that there are three key benefits to restaurants instituting a voice AI system: maximizing sales and facilitating more orders, alleviating the labour burden on employees amid restaurants’ staffing difficulties, and controlling costs and improving operational efficiencies.

“For the business, it means supercharging sales while keeping new and returning customers happy,” says Hom. “Your actual employees can get on with making food or serving dine-in customers with no distractions… Having the tools to alleviate the pressure on them can help restaurant owners avoid the costs (and headaches) associated with churn… Smart, AI-driven phone ordering is a surprisingly affordable way to bring in an ‘always-on’ voice assistant that helps to control operational costs, even as your business grows.”

Once voice technology for ordering is installed, it can act like an employee who can answer the phone at any time and even take multiple calls at once. That means no calls, or customers, need ever slip through the cracks. Presto, another AI leader, claims its AI voice technology has an accuracy of over 95 per cent and improves labour productivity by as much as three times. Outsourcing calls via voice technology also means multiple customers can place orders at the same time, offers potential for regular upselling, and also greater facilitates the storage of analysis of customer data, an increasingly important weapon in a restaurant’s arsenal.

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Testing the water

Already, numerous restaurant chains have been trialling this sort of voice technology.

McDonald’s is one of a number of fast-food chains trying out automated voice recognition at drive-thrus, and finding early success in doing so. The quick-service giant recently said that its drive-thru voice ordering accuracy rate at 24 Illinois restaurants was in the low 80 per cent range. That is some way below the 95 per cent-plus figure it wants to see in trials before broader adoption, but suggests there is potential for it to become a workable everyday solution upon further refinement.

While McDonald’s says an expansion of its regional tests into a wider rollout is still expected to be years away, the likes of Wendy’s, Applebee’s, and Panera have also been experimenting with AI ordering in recent months. Overall, 50 per cent of U.S. restaurant operators plan to implement some form of automation technology in the next two years, according to a Lightspeed report released last year, with voice technology an important consideration within that umbrella term.

A complementary approach

However, Hom emphasized that while voice ordering tech can be part of the solution, embracing tech like this isn’t about replacing valued staff members. “Instead, it’s about providing the support a business needs to execute well on the customer experience, and helping under-resourced restaurants meet and surpass the ever-rising expectations of their diners.”

Voice technology undoubtedly has a large role to play in the present and the future of foodservice when introduced as a collaborating partner with human workers. There are not enough workers to handle all the current tasks, and AI offers a solution.