Wendy's to begin replacing drive-thru staff with AI chatbots
“It’s at least as good as our best customer service representative, and it’s probably on average better,” said Wendy's CIO Kevin Vasconi to the Wall Street Journal. After successful early tests, the fifth biggest fast food chain in the USA will start using AI chatbots to interact with drive-thru customers next month.
The company has been working with Google on a number of machine learning and AI tools behind the scenes, and is now extending that partnership to begin deploying a Large Language Model (LLM) generative AI system built on the Vertex AI platform, that's custom-trained to take over from human workers, taking drive-thru orders and talking with customers.
Verbal AI tech has advanced in leaps and bounds – not that you'd know it trying to talk to my Google Home, mind you – and the two companies have worked together to train up a system called FreshAI. This model understands the entire menu, including the street slang for certain orders, and it's capable of having conversations – within a set of "guardrails" – as well as taking custom orders and answering questions.
It integrates with the company's point of sale systems and has been trained to follow the rules the company currently gives to its human drive thru window staff.
Wendy's will begin with a pilot program at a site in the Columbus, Ohio, area next month, expecting that some customers won't realize they're not talking to a human. From there, the company hopes to expand to include other drive-thru locations.
"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 Todd Penegor, President and CEO of Wendy's in a press release.
Wendy's employs more than 14,500 workers across more than 7,000 locations worldwide, pulling in annual revenues approaching US$2 billion. Nearly 80% of its customers go through the drive-thru rather than ordering inside.
I guess at least this time the AI isn't taking a job anyone particularly loves, eh?