For Fazoli’s, investing in off-premises services began in 1998 when the Kentucky-based chain became one of the first to offer customers quick-service Italian from the comfort of their own cars.

“Drive-thru has been a key part of our DNA dating back to our inception 35 years ago,” Fazoli’s President Doug Bostick said in an email interview with Food On Demand.

Fazoli’s, which was purchased by FAT Brands in 2021 for $130 million, currently has 220 restaurants across 27 states, all equipped with drive-thrus—aside from non-traditional locations such as colleges and airports.

Drive-thru makes up 42 percent of the chain’s transactions compared to pre-pandemic levels which sat at 30 to 35 percent. That number skyrocketed during the height of the pandemic, making up nearly 90 percent of transactions.

Doug Bostick, President of Fazoli’s.

“I’m incredibly proud that we have been able to retain that 10 percent-plus increase that came to us during COVID. It illustrates that those customers saw the value of our model—the speed we can push out food while still being made-to-order and fresh,” said Bostick.

Third-party delivery also played a role in its uptick of orders during the pandemic, making up about 18 percent of transactions, a major jump from only 5 to 6 percent prior. Currently, Fazoli’s has been able to maintain some of the boost with 12 percent of sales coming through third-party delivery.

“We continue to promote delivery across our channels as a result,” said Bostick.

Testing new technologies, models

The spike in off-premises orders in 2020 led the chain to quickly revamp its drive-thru services, by upgrading speakers, headsets and timer monitoring systems. The fast-casual also started deploying staff outside of the drive-thru with order-taking tablets so items could be sent to the kitchen more efficiently and help cars move faster through the line.

Fazoli’s is testing voice AI ordering in 12 of its drive-thru locations

But in its latest venture, Fazoli’s is bringing artificial intelligence (AI) into the mix, by testing AI-powered voice ordering.

“We have learned a lot during the testing process, and it is certainly something that you do not want to rush. We are known for our customer service, so it is imperative that the bot is not detrimental but instead an added value to our customers,” Bostick added.

The chain is currently testing voice AI ordering in 12 of its drive-thru locations. As the process is in the testing phase, Fazoli’s declined to release the name of the AI company it’s working with at this time.

Looking ahead at the future of Fazoli’s as it relates to technology, Bostick said the company “understands the value and importance of technology at Fazoli’s” and that “not every technological advancement will be the right fit for your brand, but it is important to have an open mind and consider what it could provide.”