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White Castle plans to test Mastercard's AI Powered Drive Through Platform later this year.

White Castle to test AI-powered drive-thru system with license plate recognition

Loyalty members can opt-in for personalized menu and payment experience featuring a digital voice assistant; Mastercard platform builds on automated tech tested last year by Sonic Drive-in

When it comes to automation, White Castle is moving quickly to trial new frictionless technologies. The quick-service chain plans to test a drive-thru system featuring license plate recognition and a digital voice assistant powered by artificial intelligence.

This drive-thru lane of the future, introduced by Mastercard, will debut in October in up to three White Castle restaurants. The “AI Powered Drive Through” builds upon technologies Mastercard first piloted last year with Sonic Drive-in. 

For White Castle, the iconic chain is clearly looking at adding more automated technologies to its stores. Earlier this year, White Castle and Miso Robotics announced plans to test Flippy, a robotic fry cook.

"As a nearly 100-year-old family business guided by having a heart for hospitality, bringing technological empowerment to the drive thru is the next chapter in innovation for our industry,” Susan Carroll-Boser, vice prresident of technology at White Castle, said in a statement. “We're honored to partner with Mastercard on this important initiative, and eager for our customers to enjoy the benefits it will provide." 

Stephane Wyper, senior vice president of retail innovation at Mastercard, said the drive thru test with White Castle will bring “frictionless experiences” to customers through automated location-based upselling and contactless payment.

That technology is similar to what McDonald’s has been testing since last year with Dynamic Yield.


Mastercard is using proprietary vehicle recognition technology by Maryland-based Rekor Systems for its AI Powered Drive Through Platform.

At a higher level, Wyper said Mastercard’s system, developed in partnership with SoundHound Inc. and Rekor Systems, can create personalized experiences by leveraging White Castle’s loyalty platform. Consumers who opt in on the app can enter their license plate so they can be identified upon entry into the drive through.  

Working with Rekor’s AI-powered vehicle recognition device, Mastercard said the drive-thru menu board will be updated to display “more relevant” items based on that guest’s past buying habits. 

“Menu options can be tied to things that are maybe bought before, or maybe certain preferences [such as] nutritional requirements,” he said.  

Ordering is automated with the consumer talking to a digital voice assistant, or bot, developed by SoundHound.

However, Wyper said the guest is in complete control and can choose to order from an employee.

“Not everyone may be comfortable with using a digital assistant,” he said. “We always make sure that the consumer has the option to order how they would normally or if they want to try this new experience.”

Mastercard is calling the personalized experience a “Known” consumer transaction, as registering on the app allows White Castle to tailor the ordering process based on the consumer’s historical buying behaviors. 

With more consumers looking for contactless payment options during the pandemic, this “Known” experience also features frictionless payment. Most brand loyalty apps give consumers the ability to register a credit card to process payments for mobile orders. 

At White Castle's pilot drive thru lanes, loyalty members don’t need to pull out a payment card to complete the transaction.

“The items purchased would be directly applied to the cards registered in the app during the signup process,” Wyper said. “It is almost completely a frictionless experience.”

Guests who don’t opt-in for the personalized experience can still order from a digital assistant that can make ordering suggestions based on what’s popular at that location. Mastercard is calling this the “Unknown” experience. 

This allows White Castle to optimize the menu dynamically based on “things like weather patterns, time of day, historical purchasing patterns” and various promotions, Wyper said. 

Mastercard declined to discuss specifics on the status of the Sonic Drive-in test, which was announced last year at the National Restaurant Association trade show in Chicago.

White Castle's move to offer high-tech solutions at the drive-thru come as other chains have tested modernizing their car lanes using automation.

Last year, Chicago-based McDonald's purchased Dynamic Yield after testing its AI-powered menu boards, which have the ability to automate upselling based on a customer’s current selections or suggest popular items using location-based data for that restaurant. 

At a smaller scale, the burger giant said last year it would start testing conversational AI at the drive-thru, as well as kiosks.

According to a new survey from Oracle Food and Beverage, consumers are seeking contactless technology to feel comfortable when returning to dining out. 

“Preferences include navigating menus and paying on a personal device, in effect minimizing interactions and allowing for a seamless, self-guided experience from discovery to fulfillment,” according to the study.

 Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @fastfoodmaven

TAGS: Technology
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