Del Taco revealed Tuesday that it’s expanding use of drive-thru AI ordering in partnership with Presto. 

The technology is currently in use at certain restaurants where it’s “significantly helping” with labor, suggestive selling, and improving customer and employee experiences. 

The Mexican fast casual, which has roughly 600 units, began testing Presto’s drive-thru AI ordering innovation last year. The system greets guests, accepts orders, and consistently upsells. More than 95 percent of orders are completed without human assistance and sent directly to POS and KDS stations. The success fueled Del Taco’s desire to add more locations across the country. 

“With Del Taco’s desire to build a drive-thru that improves operational efficiency while delivering an elevated guest experience, the Presto A.I.-based voice assistant solution is a natural choice,” Kevin Pope, Del Taco’s vice president of operations innovation, said in a statement. “The Presto platform and team have exceeded our expectations and we are excited as we prepare to deploy the solution at additional restaurants across the nation.”

Presto tested its AI tech in California nearby Del Taco’s headquarters. The upcoming rollout will be nationwide in multiple geographies, and several franchisees have already expressed interest in obtaining the innovation. Rajat Suri, CEO and founder of Presto, says it will happen fast, but he couldn’t confirm exact timing of the rollout. 

The chief executive says the technology takes one or two months to install, depending on the POS system. But after the first couple of stores are up and running, it only takes about a week. The AI is up 99.9 percent of the time, and the system has had almost no outages since it’s launched. Suri says restaurants have the choice to turn off the technology if they choose to. 

“You can fly a plane on autopilot, but you can also take over manually,” he explains. “That’s the analogy for this.” 

Suri estimates there’s around 200,000 drive-thrus in the country, but less than 1,000 use AI. He predicts that in two years, tens of thousands of locations will have it. In five years, he believes it’ll be hard to find any locations that don’t use it. 

“it’s just such a no brainer,” Suri says. “Sales go up, costs go down when we implement, and customers are happier.”

“These big chains are investing in the drive-thru in a major way,” he adds. “You probably see a lot of these stories about huge chains doing drive-thru prototypes, but they never go anywhere. They’re just a prototype. But this is something that’s actually happening in large numbers of drive-thrus. This is a very simple installation, not a major construction retrofit. Like those big buzzy stories for the press. But this is real. This is actually changing people’s daily work lives and also daily experiences going to eat.”

In January 2021, Presto and Checkers announced plans to roll out the AI tech to about 250 company-run restaurants. The system showed order accuracy of 98 percent and higher without much employee intervention during tests, far exceeding the original goal of 95 percent. More than anything, the AI is meant to be additive, and not serve as a replacement, said Checkers CEO Frances Allen. In its most recent earnings all, Presto said the technology was in more than 200 restaurants. 

Presto said it has the most penetrated drive-thru AI in the industry, with more than 75 percent market share. The technology on average boosts upsell revenue by $330,000 per year, reduces labor costs by $35,000 annually, save five to 10 labor hours per day, and expand margins by roughly 10 percent. In December, the company introduced a custom voice feature that allows guests to interact with celebrities, mascots, characters, or other voices while at a drive-thru. 

The company said in November that it had a handful of “high potential” pilot installs with top 50 brands. In each case, the AI tech demonstrated similar or better statistics than Checkers. The technology generated upsell acceptance rates between 25 and 70 percent, depending on location.

Fast Casual, Story, Technology, Del Taco