A new era of celebrity 'voice cloning' for AI drive-thru orders is coming

Drive-thru customers may soon hear familiar voices taking their order at their favorite quick-service restaurant.
Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken
The voice guests hear at Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken is that of Buckeye football Hall of Famer Keith Byar, thanks to voice cloning. | Photo courtesy of Lee's Famous Recipe.

Customers of Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken in Ohio can roll into the drive-thru at some units and football Hall of Famer Keith Byars will take their order.

Byars isn’t actually at any of the restaurants though.

The former player-turned-ESPN-radio-show host, has allowed his voice to be “cloned” by Hi Auto, the AI-ordering tech company partnering with Lee’s Famous for the test at a few units in Ohio, where the chain is based.

AI has been increasingly adopted in the quick-service world. But this new feature now offered by Hi Auto nationwide gives it more of a personalized twist.

Voice cloning allows the company to capture the nuances and personality of a particular person’s voice, including tone, accent and dialect, the company said. It can create a digital voice that is indistinguishable from the original speaker and can be seamlessly incorporated into a store’s order-taking system.

“Hi Auto’s AI voice cloning aims to humanize the customer drive-thru experience by giving automated attendants a ‘real’ voice,” said Roy Baharav, Hi Auto’s CEO and co-founder, in a statement.

Byars is a native son of Ohio. He played football first for Ohio State, and then moved into the NFL, playing 13 seasons for teams like the Philadelphia Eagles, the Miami Dolphins, the New England Patriots and the New York Jets. He now hosts “The Keith Byars Show” on ESPN-affiliated stations in Dayton.

Keith Byars

Keith Byars. | Photo courtesy of Hi Auto.

Chuck Doran, Lee’s Famous’ owner and operator, said the chain has had a partnership with Byars since 2018, when the radio show launched. The chain brought AI ordering into the more than 120-unit system in 2020.

Ryan Weaver, CEO of Lee’s Famous, said the move has enhanced labor efficiency by saving about five to six labor hours daily, and it has improved order consistency and upselling conversions.

Hi Auto said voice cloning can help build brand identity for restaurant chains, and it can also help with communication, providing a familiar accent in certain regions. The voices can also be varied by daypart or season.

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