Google Partners With Wendy’s For Drive-Thru AI

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Get ready for some sparkling AI-generated chit-chat the next time you pull into a drive-thru.

Fast-food giant Wendy’s has called on Google to help it build a generative AI chatbot that can take food orders from drive-thru customers. The point of the chatbot will be to speed up drive-thru lines, although Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor told/warned The Wall Street Journal that the chatbot will be “very conversational”.

Do You Want AI With That?

Wendy’s is not the first fast-food chain to try automating the drive-thru experience. McDonald’s started testing out Alexa-like voice assistants at its drive-thru restaurants as far back as 2019 but with decidedly mixed results. TikTok videos of part-exasperated, part-amused customers started to go viral in February this year. In one video, the Robotic Ronald McDonald ended up totting up an order for $250 worth of McNuggets.

Wendy’s says it’s training its AI chatbot with Google and plans to get it into drive-thru kiosks next month. Rather than just sticking Google’s Chat-GPT rival bard into some Wendy’s-branded screens, the job will require a lot of customization:

  • The bot will have to recognize Wendy’s-specific slang for its products — “JBC” for junior bacon cheeseburger, for example.
  • It will also have to learn to tune out any background noise like engines, horns, or hungry children savaging each other in the backseat.

Even a chatbot with the occasional snafu could scale well for Wendy’s, which has seen a huge shift toward drive-thru dining. The company told the WSJ that while drive-thru food made up 30% of orders before the pandemic, it now accounts for 80%.

Blackmail’s Such An Ugly Word — Robots Prefer ‘Extortion’: Corporations love cutting costs, and for some introverted consumers taking the humanity out of, say, checking out at the grocery store has been a blessing. But sometimes companies go a step too far in trying to simply replicate a human teller rather than thinking through why a robot is actually useful. In a WSJ piece published on Monday, some consumers expressed their outrage at the growing number of self-checkout machines that ask for a tip, with one person describing it as “emotional blackmail.” If Chat-GPT’s initial public outing is anything to go by, AI will only get more emotionally manipulative the more sophisticated it becomes.