American drive-thru restaurant chain Checkers & Rally’s is adopting the speech recognition developed by Israeli startup Hi Auto. The Tel Aviv-based company’s solution is the first of its kind for the restaurant industry. The solution enables restaurants to take orders from drivers through an artificial intelligence system that makes it possible for drivers to converse normally with a virtual assistant at the orders counter.
Checkers & Rally’s has about 900 branches across the US. It will install the solution in all the company-operated stores and in most of the franchised locations. Hi Auto uses a SaaS model and the deal will generate millions of dollars revenue for the company.
Two of the ten largest US fast-food chains are carrying out advanced pilots to test Hi Auto’s solution for automated voice ordering. The US fast food market is estimated at $300 billion, and restaurants with drive-thru lanes see up to 80% of their total business there.
The speech recognition technology that Hi Auto has developed enables drivers at the drive-thru lane to converse in natural language with Auto, a smart AI-based virtual assistant, which accepts the order, understands its contents, offers additions and upgrades (upsell) in a human voice, and sends the order to the kitchen. The system has a 95% accuracy rate. It understands complex menus, can understand the customer’s half-sentences, multiple detailed requests, and monitors changes in the order that the customer is making during the conversation.
The system effectively functions as an outstanding employee, who does not tire, always comes to work, is always polite, and does not forget to recommend upsells. The system not only helps address the labor shortage crisis in the US restaurant industry, which is losing hundreds of thousands of workers a month, but also improves the restaurant’s performance when compared to a human employee. For example, recordings of employees discovered that they only offer upsells for around 10% of orders, while the system does so for around 70% of orders. Because the cost structure of restaurants is mostly comprised of fixed costs, this change has an immediate effect on the bottom line.
Roy Baharav, CEO of Hi Auto, says, “Hi Auto is the first virtual assistant in the world that is being deployed at scale by Quick Service chains. The solution that we developed reduces the load and dependence on personnel by taking orders automatically and helps overcome the shortage of about 1.5 million workers in the US, which has adversely affected the industry in the past two years. In the future, the virtual assistant will improve all restaurant sales processes.”
Baharav adds, “Routine, low-paid work under pressure causes high turnover of workers and a constant race in hiring and training. In the current crisis, owners are unable to man restaurants with the minimum number of workers needed and have to close early or shut down completely. Chains are now dreaming of building restaurants that are based on a smaller number of employees who receive a higher salary and stay diligent over time, and we can help them make this dream come true.”
Hi Auto was founded in 2019 by Zohar Zisapel, who serves as its executive chairman and is an investor in the company, Roy Baharav, CEO, who served in IDF Unit 81 and worked at Google, and Eyal Shapira, CTO, a graduate of the IDF Talpiot program and Unit 81, and a serial entrepreneur. The company has raised $8 million since it was founded and is preparing for a Series A funding round in 2022. The company currently has 40 employees, most of whom are at its development center in Tel Aviv, and it plans to double its workforce in the coming year in order to meet its growth challenges.