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Newk's Eatery Taps AI Solution to Handle Phone Orders

Newk’s Eatery partners with kea to improve voice ordering, boost phone orders at all locations.

While digital ordering gains in popularity, customers continue to use the telephone for placing carryout orders.

Maybe it's the familiarity of calling in that favorite pizza order each Friday night, or perhaps it's the speed and convenience of not having to use your thumbs to type. Whatever the reason, customers are still calling in food orders. And restaurants need to answer them.

Workforce shortages make this a challenge.  According to the latest National Restaurant Association Business Conditions survey, a majority of both full-service operators (63%) and limited-service operators (61%) say their restaurant does not have enough employees.

To help answer the phones and input phone orders, Newk’s Eatery, based in Jackson, Miss., chose one of the growing number of AI-based voice ordering solutions. 


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newks employee cashier

Hold the Phone

“When callers can’t get through to a cashier, we risk upsetting loyal customers and losing a significant segment of our customer base,”  explained Adam Karveller, VP of Information Technology at Newk’s Eatery. “Not only that, if the phone is constantly ringing off the hook we also risk losing employees who are stressed and overwhelmed, compounding the labor shortage problem we already face.” 

Newk’s Eatery decided to test kea’s AI-based voice tool at its corporate locations.  

5 Ways Restaurant Voice AI Supports Employees

How it Works

Using natural language processing, kea accepts incoming calls, transcribes, upsells and confirms orders. Using a PCI-compliant system, kea then processes the payment and sends orders to the restaurant POS.

While natural language processing continues to improve, Newk’s clientele wasn’t used to talking to AI. Kea addresses this learning curve by ensuring there’s always a human in the loop in case customers need help or prefer to speak to someone directly. 

The Results

At one of the initial partner locations, kea had 3,048 orders placed over the course of 2 weeks.

Newk’s estimates that’s 182 hours worth of phone calls, and time employees could use to be present in the restaurant.   After three months of using kea, Newk’s cut costs by eliminating 50% of the phone lines in the restaurants.  After the successful test,  Newk’s rolled out kea to its 100 locations in 16 states. 

At Newk’s. off-premises orders (phone and online orders combined) account for a third of all orders since the pandemic.

“When we were looking at options for to-go ordering, we didn’t want a one-size-fits-all technology. We wanted a customer-centric solution that specialized in the phone channel,” said Mark Reedy, Vice President of Franchise Operations. “We found that kea was much more accurate and user-friendly than the other options, and based on the check averages going up, we know that it’s been more successful too.”

  • The Story Behind The Cashier in the Cloud

    Founder and CEO Adam Ahmad, who has a background in food delivery technology, was inspired to create kea back in 2017 after listening to a restaurant executive explain to its franchisees that they’re losing business, guest satisfaction is down, and that incoming phone calls were being answered 50% less than in prior years -- all which were attributed to a lack of labor. 

    “When people reach out to our restaurants, the first thing that they hear is, ‘Hey, can you please wait on hold?’’  Ahmad explains.   “And then another call comes in…. and there's usually three to five phone lines.”

    Ahmad went to a local franchise and had them forward one location’s phone calls to his cell for a week. “Rather than the call being answered in the restaurant, I would just pick it up from my house. I would try to upsell them on the order.  I was that dedicated resource for them. After doing that for a week, we sat down with the owner and just looked at apples-to-apples-numbers from the previous week’s sales. Because I was that dedicated resource, I was up by 19% in top-line sales that week. (About $2,000-$2,200.)  The following week I did it across five of the owner’s franchise locations and we were up 22% in sales.”

    An Idea Takes Flight

    What started as a side project snowballed.  kea, named after the New Zealand parrot, was born.  “This larger vision emerged… to create a cashier in the cloud that could be deployed on any phone number," Ahmad explained.

    For example, Newk’s number automatically forwards to kea’s primary number in the cloud.  The kea cloud cashier answers on behalf of Newk’s, and using machine learning, kea is able to understand what the guest is saying, he explained.  In addition to the AI, there’s a human available to jump in to help and fulfill the order.  That order then flows into the Newk’s POS, thanks to kea’s integration with Olo.   

    “The market is quite fragmented when it comes to POS systems. There's 50 of them, if not more,” he said. “...It has to be very easy for restaurants to get that order. We looked at the market, and we said, ‘Who can we integrate with that would allow us to share this technology with several of the larger chains?’  And we ended up doing a partnership with Olo to integrate into their APIs.”

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