- CKE Restaurant Holdings, the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., will deploy drive-thru artificial intelligence at some drive-thrus. The restaurant firm is working with three different tech firms, Presto Automation, OpenCity and Valyant AI, according to press releases from those companies.
- All three companies said tests at unspecified numbers of CKE restaurants showed improved labor productivity, among other benefits.
- CKE operates about 2,800 Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. locations in the U.S., and another 1,000 worldwide, offering the potential for large-scale adoption of drive-thru automation.
Restaurants have embraced AI technology at the drive-thru to automate employee tasks and improve speed of service. For CKE, its experimentation with such tools has yielded promising results, CTO Phil Crawford said in partner company press releases.
Crawford credited OpenCity’s technology with “enhancing the speed and accuracy of order processing, resulting in reduced wait times for customers and increased efficiency for our staff.” Crawford didn’t say if CKE is offering Presto Voice AI to its operators nationwide. OpenCity CEO Nick Belsito told Restaurant Dive that his company’s AI tool would be available for CKE franchisees.
“The pilot program yielded positive outcomes, with deployed stores experiencing a significant rise in revenue due to the upsell capability,” Crawford said of Presto’s test.
Valyant will deploy its AI voice bot at at 32 CKE restaurants owned by two franchisees in the coming months, with 21 more to eventually follow, Valyant CEO Rob Carpenter wrote in an email to Restaurant Dive. Valyant’s tech was tested for a year at Hardee’s locations in Tennessee and Carl’s Jr. locations in California. OpenCity’s test lasted about a year. Presto did not specify how long its testing period lasted.
All three companies make similar claims about their products’ performances:
|AI drive-thru tech provider||Product claims||Existing locations|
||Live at undisclosed number of CKE units in California, Tennessee and Wisconsin and at at least one Popeyes unit|
||Live at undisclosed number of KFC, Del Taco and corporate-owned and franchised Checkers & Rally’s units|
||Live at undisclosed number of franchised Checkers & Rally’s units|
Conversational AI, including phone automation as well as drive-thru automation, is often framed as a way to reduce labor needs, improve accuracy and speed of service. But restaurants have run into issues with such technology, too. McDonald’s encountered order accuracy problems during its drive-thru AI tests at 24 Illinois restaurants last year. The Golden Arches’ order accuracy with drive-thru voice AI was around 80%, BTIG said in a note emailed to Restaurant Dive, well below the chain’s 95% accuracy target.
While CKE’s announcement represents a major development in the drive-thru AI sphere, easing conditions in the labor market may make AI adoption less urgent for some restaurants. data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the labor market has begun to cool considerably since mid-2021, and the number of foodservice workers is now virtually identical to its pre-COVID-19 high. Labor turnover in the segment has also eased, with monthly quits in the sector falling from 839,000 in February 2023 to 661,000 in March, a decrease of over 20%, though job openings increased modestly. Wage growth has moderated, with wages for restaurant workers falling from an average of $19.42 an hour in December to $19.34 in March, according to BLS statistics.