- Mastercard and kiosk vendor ZIVELO have partnered to launch an artificial intelligence-powered voice assistant and personalized dynamic menu for the restaurant segment. Sonic Drive-In will be the first to pilot the technology at select U.S. locations later this year, according to a news release.
- Drive-thru or drive-in customers will be prompted to order through the voice ordering assistant, which is integrated with a dynamic menu display. Then, using a proprietary AI solution, the menu automatically updates with customized information based on factors like the weather or the time of day.
- On the same day, THE.FIT also announced the launch of an AI-powered platform designed to enable restaurants to create customized menus for each guest. According to a release, restaurants provide guests with a QR code that takes them to a page on their mobile device, where they can then view a personalized menu. The technology then leverages that AI to enhance personalization with each visit.
Often in the QSR segment, as McDonald's or Starbucks go, so tends to go the industry. Less than two months after McDonald's acquired Dynamic Yield for $300 million to focus on AI-enabled personalization at the drive-thru, for example, Sonic has jumped into a similar pilot.
It won't be the last such example. AI integration is a big deal right now, specifically because of the personalization and customization opportunities that it yields. Not only do younger consumers crave such personalized interaction with their favorite brands, they're starting to expect it. McDonald's global chief information officer Daniel Henry told the Wall Street Journal this week that the goal posts have moved on these expectations because this is the environment customers are now in every day as they shop online and interact with airlines.
In other words, consumers are craving such an approach because they've been inundated with blanket messaging from restaurant brands for so long while simultaneously learning the power of personalization through Amazon. Punchh CEO Shyam Rao told Forbes.com that he believes so many other retail brands have gone out of business recently because they lost that personalized connection with their customers.
The Mastercard/ZIVELO and THE.FIT technologies don't sound much different on paper than McDonald's Dynamic Yield technology. Essentially, menu displays automatically update using an AI-generated algorithm which enable them to tailor the layout and recommendations either to individual people or for external factors such as weather, time of day, seasonality and location, according to VentureBeat. As this data becomes richer, the AI becomes more sophisticated, recognizing specific consumers' past orders, for example.
Such drive-thru technology, whether at Sonic or McDonald's or elsewhere, certainly won't be the only area where restaurant companies try and cultivate a deeper one-on-one connection with their customers. Expect similar efforts through updated loyalty programs, mobile apps, websites, for example.
For now, however, about 70% of all business comes through the drive-thru, ZIVELO CEO Healey Cypher said in a press release, so it makes plenty of sense to start tinkering with this technology at this channel. According to the National Restaurant Association's 2019 State of the Restaurant Industry report, 70% of QSR operators plan to devote more resources this year to customer-facing, service-based technology. As even more customers come to expect this type of personalization through AI-enabled technology, the schism between those that have deep enough pockets for such investments and those that don't could become even deeper.