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Tech roundup: Checkers to automate more drive-thrus

Franchisees of the chain will now be able to use AI voice ordering at their restaurants. Also, Black and Mobile expands, Cracker Barrel grows its virtual pancake brand, and more.
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Photo illustration by Nico Heins

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After airing plans to bring automated voice ordering to its company-owned restaurants last month, Checkers & Rally’s is now doing the same for its franchisees, potentially bringing the technology to hundreds of additional locations.

The 850-unit drive-thru chain is partnering with Valyant AI, which makes a conversational AI product called Holly, to take orders, it announced last week.

It’s similar to the technology that Checkers will be using at its 267 company-owned restaurants, though those stores have a different supplier (Presto).

The chain said the technology will free up staff to do other things and provide a better experience for guests. Checkers is at the forefront of scaling voice ordering in the drive-thru, which is part of a broader shift toward more automation in the restaurant industry.

Holly is currently in place at 12 franchised stores. Franchisees will be able to opt in to using it.

“As a company that embraces technology, we felt it was important to provide franchisees with options to determine the best fit for their own AI needs while also providing the tools necessary to deliver a better experience for both team members and guests,” said Minh Le, chief information officer at Checkers & Rally’s, in a statement.

Black and Mobile is launching in two major cities. The delivery service focusing on Black-owned restaurants is now available in New York and Los Angeles, bringing its total service area to six cities. It has also revamped its mobile app and website behind an investment from Pepsi’s Dig In program for Black-owned businesses. The update includes an improved ordering process and real-time order tracking.

Cracker Barrel is expanding its pancake-focused virtual brand. The Pancake Kitchen by Cracker Barrel will be added to 100 more restaurants this year, providing an all-day menu of pancakes and breakfast sides for delivery and pickup. It’s currently available in 150 of Cracker Barrel’s 660 restaurants, and will reach 200 in 2022. It is one of three virtual brands operated by the chain: The others are Chicken n’ Biscuits by Cracker Barrel and Cracker Barrel Kitchen.

The Pancake Kitchen offeringsThe Pancake Kitchen offers a variety of specialty pancakes. / Photograph courtesy of Cracker Barrel

Grubhub has entered the ultra-fast grocery delivery game. The company is partnering with delivery service Buyk to offer deliveries in 15 minute or less starting at 30 locations in New York and Chicago. More than 2,000 grocery and convenience products will be available on Grubhub, with Buyk handling the actual fulfillment and delivery from its network of storerooms. Rival DoorDash launched its own rapid grocery delivery service in December.

An app for home cooks raised $1.3 million. DishDivvy is a marketplace that allows cooks to offer homemade meals to local customers through pickup or delivery. The pre-seed funding round was led by 10X Venture and included contributions from executives at DoorDash and Etsy. The service is currently available in California, but is working on adding cooks in Chicago, Austin, Charlotte, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. It will use the funds to support expansion into these new markets.

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