Wendy's to begin replacing drive-thru staff with AI chatbots

Wendy's to begin replacing drive-thru staff with AI chatbots
Wendy's will start to roll out AI chatbots to replace drive-thru staff next month
Wendy's will start to roll out AI chatbots to replace drive-thru staff next month
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Wendy's will start to roll out AI chatbots to replace drive-thru staff next month
Wendy's will start to roll out AI chatbots to replace drive-thru staff next month

“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?

Source: Wendy's

Loving or not loving a job is not the metric to use here…
This will be taking plenty of jobs that people need
And it’s only the start
Cymon Curcumin
I hope it is better than whatever voice chat my bank uses. The only word it understands is “representative” which I always need to use to get to a human because the voice chat can’t understand anything.
Rick O
Considering the people taking orders are usually doing other things, I'm not sure this will remove a job completely. Indoor kiosks probably cost more jobs. It will be interesting to see how well it does. As mentioned by the author, it's not like Google Home is infallible, so I don't expect this to go perfectly smooth. With a clearly spoken person ordering and little background noise, it will likely be okay. But with distracted customers, traffic, etc. it may not go very well.
Ask for a higher minimum wage, get replaced by a Chatbot.
So why can't Siri reliably get the context of "we're" and "were" or "they're", "their" and "there"?
And it will ALWAYS ask, "Would you like fries with that?"
James Douglas
I will not be patronizing Wendy's. I like a live person to take my order, and yes, to socialize.
This is what comes of people not caring about their jobs, or about providing good service. We can expect to see this trend sweeping, at first, the fast food industry, and soon after, many other industries. Slackers have brought this upon themselves.
This is what comes of employers not caring about their staff or about providing good wages. We can expect this trend to sweep through many industries where people just refuse to work in them.
It's just evolution of society. We've lost jobs to automation before, mostly to the benefit of society overall. Does anyone want to go back to life without e-banking (getting paper bills, paying with cheques or physical bills and coins)? There must have been plenty of person-hours spent handling cash. Do you want everything to be more expensive as wages rise? People who want to go back to "the good old days" either didn't live in those days or can't remember them clearly. What I miss is the quality of foods and some goods, not the way things were done.
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