Wendy’s is automating its drive-through service using an artificial-intelligence chatbot powered by natural language software developed by Google and trained to understand the myriad ways customers order off the menu, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The Dublin, Ohio-based fast-food chain’s chatbot will be officially rolled out in June at a company-owned restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, Wendy’s said. The goal is to streamline the ordering process and prevent long lines in the drive-through lanes from turning customers away, said Wendy’s Chief Executive Todd Penegor.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Wendy’s didn’t disclose the cost of the initiative beyond saying the company has been working with Google in areas like data analytics, machine learning and cloud tools since 2021.
“It will be very controversial,” Mr. Penegor said about the new artificial intelligence-powered chatbots. “You won’t know you’re talking to anybody but an employee,” he said.
To do that, Wendy’s software engineers have been working with Google to build and fine-tune a generative AI application on top of Google’s own large language model, or LLM – a vast algorithmic software tool loaded with words, phrases and popular expressions in different dialects and accents and designed to recognize and mimic the syntax and semantics of human speech.
Gizmodo reported: AI chatbots have come for journalism, and now they are coming for our burgers. Wendy’s is reportedly gearing up to unveil a chatbot-powered drive-thru experience next month, with the help from a partnership with Google.
“Google Cloud’s generative AI technology creates a huge opportunity for us to deliver a truly differentiated, faster and frictionless experience for our customers, and allows our employees to continue focusing on making great food and building relationships with fans that keep them coming back time and again,” said Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor in a statement emailed to Gizmodo.
According to Gizmodo, Wendy’s competitor McDonald’s has already been experimenting with ah AI drive-thru – to mixed results. Videos posted to TikTok illustrated just how woefully ill-prepared automation is at taking fast food orders, and how woefully un-prepared humans are to deal with it.
McDonalds began testing AI drive-thrus as June 2021 with 10 locations in Chicago. McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski reportedly explained that the AI system had an 85% order accuracy. However, according to Restaurant Drive in June 2022, the company was seen an accuracy percentage in the low-80s when it was really hoping for 95% accuracy before a wider rollout.
The Register posted a title for its article that started with “Show us the sauce code…” also reported that Wendy’s and Google have together built a chatbot for taking drive-thru orders, using large language models and generative AI
According to The Register, the system works by converting spoken fast-food orders to text that can be processed by Google’s large language model. A generative component added to the system is designed to make the chatbot interact with people in a more natural and conversational manner, so that it’s less rigid and robotic.
The completed model was trained to recognize specific phrases or acronyms customers typically use when ordering, such as “JBC” describing Wendy’s junior bacon cheeseburger, “Frosties” milkshakes, or its combination meal “biggie bags.” Unsurprisingly, The Register reported, the chatbot, like human workers, will gladly offer to upsize meals or add more items to an order since it has been programmed to try and persuade hungry patrons to spend more cash.
The Register also reported that Wendy’s will try out its AI-powered drive-thru service in June at a restaurant in Columbus, Ohio. Up to 80 percent of orders are reportedly placed by customers at the burger slinger’s drive-thru lanes, an increase of 30 percent since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Personally, I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, if the AI turns out to be really good at what it does, it could make the drive thru lines move faster. People don’t have to wait as long, and Wendy’s gets more money.
On the other hand, I have concerns that if the AI – eventually – will be used in every Wendy’s. That could result in less job opportunities for real-life, human, workers.