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Wendy’s Introduces AI Drive-Thru Order Takers

Wendy’s is implementing AI powered by Google to take customers’ drive-thru orders. The company claims that the AI system will not just take orders, claiming, “It’s a personalized, responsive experience for every customer.”

Restaurant Business reports that Wendy’s has launched an ambitious project to integrate AI technology into their drive-thru services, a move that reflects the growing trend of AI utilization in the fast-food industry. This initiative, named “Wendy’s FreshAI,” was developed in collaboration with Google Cloud and is currently operational in four company-owned locations in Columbus, Ohio.

Matt Spessard, the chief technology officer at Wendy’s, emphasized that Wendy’s FreshAI is designed to create a unique experience for each customer, moving beyond traditional drive-thru interactions. He explains, “Wendy’s FreshAI is not just a speaker and a microphone. It’s a personalized, responsive experience for every customer.”

This strategic move by Wendy’s comes amidst a broader industry trend towards AI adoption. Competitors like McDonald’s and smaller chains such as Checkers, Krystal, White Castle, Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr., and Dunkin’ are also exploring or implementing similar technologies.

The AI systems in drive-thrus offer multiple advantages for fast-food chains. They reduce the need for labor, replacing specific employee roles with technology, and improve operational efficiency. For instance, in one of the test sites, service times were notably faster than the market average, and the introduction of AI technology helped improve order accuracy. Wendy’s reported that without human intervention, the accuracy rate of Wendy’s FreshAI stood at 86 percent, which increased to 99 percent with crew assistance.

However, the transition to AI is not without challenges. The complexity of customer orders, influenced by regional dialects and accents, poses a significant hurdle. “There are more than 200 billion ways to order a Dave’s Double,” Spessard noted, highlighting the number of variables that can lead to increased order errors, potentially frustrating both customers and staff.

Despite these challenges, Wendy’s is pushing forward with its AI drive-thru initiative. The company plans to extend this technology to more restaurants this year and offer it to franchisees for testing in the coming year.

 

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