Square Taps Voice Commerce as ResTech Races Toward Automation

With the difficult labor market restaurants are facing, many purpose-built technology companies have come to the fore, offering automated solutions to make operational processes more efficient. Now, as these challenges continue, leading ResTech solutions providers are noting the need to get on board.

Square, for one, announced Thursday (May 19) that it is partnering with conversational artificial intelligence (AI) company SoundHound to integrate call-in orders fielded by SoundHound’s voice assistant into Square’s point-of-sale (POS) system.

“At Square, we are seeing sellers leverage the latest technology to meet customer demand regardless of size or complexity,” Bryan Solar, head of Restaurants at Square, said in a statement. “Our partnership with SoundHound allows us to offer innovative and cost-effective solutions to restaurants working with small profit margins and facing multiple challenges — including the high cost of rapid labor turnover and shortages. This integration provides our sellers with the tools they need to offer a consistently high-level of customer service.”

Phone ordering automation is one of the two main ways today’s restaurants are leveraging speech recognition AI to boost operational efficiency. Some brands are implementing the technology at drive-thru locations, aiming to boost capacity by reducing the labor needed to take orders and in turn to reduce wait times.

For instance, McDonald’s is working with IBM toward the development and launch of its Automated Order Taking (AOT) technology for its drive-thrus, and Florida-based fast-casual chain BurgerFi will be launching in-car voice ordering in 5G-enabled cars over the summer.

Read more: New Ordering Technology Extends the Drive-Thru Beyond the Lane

Research from PYMNTS’ 2021 How We Eat Playbook, created in collaboration with Carat from Fiserv, which drew from a survey of more than 5,200 consumers, found that 20% of consumers said they are “very” or “extremely” interested “in using their voices to buy food and groceries.” Plus, since the time of the survey, voice ordering technology has only become more common, such that the share has likely increased.

Moreover, voice commerce is also a valuable way to reach the restaurant industry’s digital shifters. The study revealed that consumers who have shifted to ordering food and groceries online more often than they did pre-pandemic are more than twice as likely to express interest in using voice commerce technology going forward as those who have not.

“More and more when we watch people interact with their devices, it’s voice,” Portillo’s Senior Vice President of Marketing and Off-Premise Dining Nick Scarpino told PYMNTS in an interview. “It’s sometimes the primary way that people are interacting with their devices.”

See more: Portillo’s Reimagines Its Restaurants for the Mobile-Order Future

Granted, at this stage, the technology still has certain limitations. In a December interview with PYMNTS, Fiserv Vice President of Global Digital Commerce Scott Mackay noted that, given how many variables can go into each restaurant order, they can be more difficult to process than purchases of a single, fixed item.

“We found that in voice commerce, the simple, repeat orders are some of the easiest … but restaurant orders can be somewhat challenging when you go beyond the simple coffee orders and those kinds of things,” Mackay said.

Read more: Restaurants, Grocers Embrace Voice, Contextual Commerce to Thrive in an Omnichannel World