Understaffed Restaurants Turn to Robo-Voice Assistants to Take Orders


The staff at Danny Meyer’s New York City restaurants may soon include robo-voice assistants. On Tuesday (Aug. 23), ConverseNow, a company that offers artificial intelligence (AI) voice ordering assistants for restaurants announced a $10 million post-Series-A investment from Enlightened Hospitality Investments (EHI), a growth equity fund co-founded by Meyer, the restaurateur behind Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG) and Shake Shack.

The tech company, whose technology is in over 1,200 restaurants in 40 states including Domino’s Pizza stores among other recognizable brands, provides automated order-taking (AOT) technology for “high-volume voice channels” such as drive-thrus and phone orders with the ability to upsell, promote limited-time offers (LTOs), accept coupons and more. This investment brings the company’s total funding to $28.8 million.

“We’ve seen a dramatic shift in the way consumers engage with restaurants over the past two years, and for restaurants to earn customer loyalty today they must deliver memorable experiences,” Meyer said in a statement. “ConverseNow … drives innovation in the restaurant industry by enabling team members to spend more time interacting with guests where they can bring hospitality to the forefront of their offering.”

Research from PYMNTS’ 2021 How We Eat Playbook, created in collaboration with Carat from Fiserv, which drew from a survey of a census-balanced panel of more than 5,200 U.S. consumers, found that 20% of consumers say they are “very” or “extremely” interested “in using their voices to buy food and groceries.

See also: 182M Consumers Now Use Digital Channels to Shop and Pay for Food

“We are incredibly honored to partner with the hospitality leaders at EHI and USHG as we look forward to our next phase of growth,” ConverseNow CEO Vinay Shukla said. “Even after last year’s 12x revenue growth, we’ve come a long way in 2022. Just about every restaurant chain is looking at voice AI, and naturally coming to us as the category market leader.”

Indeed, Shukla is far from the only person predicting that voice ordering technology may become ubiquitous. For instance, Victor Matchie, owner of Aloha, Oregon-based sandwich chain Monkey’s Subs, spoke with PYMNTS this spring about the company’s artificial intelligence (AI) voice assistant from speech recognition company SoundHound, arguing that these technologies are the future.

“There’s been a big shift [to digital ordering],” Matchie said, “and I think with the voice ordering assistant, there’s going to be another shift.”

Related news: Voice Ordering AI Enables Restaurants to Meet Demand

The news comes as restaurants’ ongoing labor challenges prompt are prompting creative solutions, not only automated technologies but also different, more flexible models of human work. Also on Tuesday, Bite Ninja, a Memphis-based tech startup offering a remote work solution for select restaurant jobs, announced that it has raised $11.3 million in a post-seed bridge funding round, bringing its total funding to $15.4 million.

The need to solve these issues is pressing. Research from the 2022 edition of PYMNTS’ Restaurant Readiness Index, created in collaboration with Paytronix, which drew from a survey of more than 500 managers of quick-service restaurants (QSRs) and full-service restaurants (FSRs) across the country, found that about one in three restaurants report that their level of service has decreased as a result of staffing issues.

Read more: More Than Half of Restaurants Depend on Digital Sales, Despite Uptick in On-Premises Orders