In a press release on May 9th, Wendy’s announced plans to ‘revolutionize the fast-food restaurant industry.’ Starting next month, Wendy’s will be testing a new order taking system that will use an AI chatbot to take drive-thru orders.
This innovative pilot project, which will be powered by Google Cloud’s AI software, will introduce the first “Wendy’s FreshAI” in the Columbus, Ohio area.
With the recent pandemic having made the drive-thru the most popular ordering method, the trend has continued with a now reported 80 percent of Wendy’s customers preferring to order this way.
Deepak Ajmani, Wendy’s U.S. chief operations officer, says drive-thru has remained Wendy’s customers’ preferred way of interacting with the brand, and it’s due to the fact it addresses three critical elements of the quick-service experience: accuracy, convenience, and speed.
Powered by a natural-language model, the Google developed software is trained to understand how customers order off the menu. The new tech is said to be as natural as talking to a human employee and has the ability to understand frequently used acronyms and slang, like ‘JBC’ for junior bacon cheeseburger, ‘biggie bags’ for combination orders and it will know that if someone orders a ‘milkshake’, what they mean is a Frosty.
Wendy’s isn’t the first fast-food chain to incorporate AI into its order taking system. Last year, McDonald’s opened a fully automated restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas, and has since activated more AI-operated drive-thrus in other parts of the country.
Though it sounds like this is the beginning of AI replacing humans, the company says: “We do not anticipate reducing labor, but instead, shifting crew responsibilities to meet the increased volume of Wendy’s orders expected in the drive-thru and across our growing digital channels.”
Wendy’s plans to have real human employees monitoring the drive-thrus to ensure the orders are being placed correctly, or in the event a customer asks to speak with an employee.
After the AI confirms the order on a screen customers can see, a ticket will be sent to the kitchen where the food is prepared and then handed to, or brought to the customer in the waiting area, by a human employee.
With the integration of AI, Wendy’s is seeking to streamline the ordering process, reduce miscommunication and mistakes by automating the drive-thru, “so employees can focus on serving up fast, fresh-made, quality food and exceptional service.”
Wendy’s is just the latest fast-food chain to adopt AI, but this trend does not seem to be losing any steam as other fast-food chains like Sonic, Popeyes and Carl’s Jr. are also said to be currently experimenting with AI.
Krishna Gupta, Chairman and Interim Chief Executive Officer of Presto Automation, which offers an AI ordering platform for restaurants, told Bloomberg Television last week, “I don’t think in three years, there’s going to be a drive-thru having a human take your orders.”