Wendy’s is using Google's AI software to help reduce wait times and streamline ordering

Scarlett Evans, Assistant Editor, IoT World Today

May 22, 2023

2 Min Read

Wendy’s is testing a Google-powered AI chatbot to take visitors’ drive-thru orders, in a project it says seeks to take the complexity out of the ordering process.

The project joins a wider trend of restaurant chains turning to digital tools to improve efficiency and alleviate pressure on staff in the face of ongoing labor shortages.

Wendy’s pilot program, dubbed FreshAI, will use Google Cloud’s language learning AI software to have conversations with customers and understand made-to-order requests. The project is hoped to reduce wait times and streamline the ordering process and is set to launch in June in Columbus, Ohio.

The project comes as part of Wendy’s digitization roadmap, as well as the wider restaurant industry’s shift to automated tools to improve efficiency and combat labor shortages.

"Generative AI is fundamentally changing how people interact with brands,” said Thomas Kurian, Google Cloud’s CEO. “We anticipate Wendy's integration of Google Cloud's generative AI technology will set a new standard for great drive-thru experiences for the quick-service industry." 

Wendy’s is not the first chain to leverage conversational bots to enhance customer experience.

In April last year, Popeyes began deploying an AI ordering platform using OpenCity’s chatbot Tori at its Lafayette, Louisiana location. In September, Panera Bread also began testing the AI-powered chatbot at two of its upstate New York restaurants. The bakery-cafe chain also started trials of Amazon's palm-scanning technology Amazon One earlier this year, which allows customers to pay and access their loyalty program just by holding their palm above a scanner.  

Earlier this year, Wingstop rolled out voice bots for online or phone orders in multiple states, using conversational bots by food-tech startup ConverseNow, which also works with Domino's and Fazoli's. Last year, McDonald’s opened a fully automated restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas, with conveyor belts delivering food to customers and AI-operated drive-thrus to take orders on the go. 

The pandemic was a huge motivator for the shift to automated operations, with visitors prioritizing a contactless experience and businesses facing a squeeze from the labor shortages that followed.

According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2023 State of the Restaurant Industry Report, around 58% of restaurant operators said technology and automation to alleviate labor shortages will become increasingly common this year.

The push for automation has led to some backlash, and concerns that the rise of robotic assistants comes at the cost of human jobs.

Participating restaurants have, however, stressed that these tools are intended to assist rather than replace human workers, with Tori and FreshAI both requiring human staff to be on hand to oversee interactions and take over if something goes wrong. 

"Google Cloud's generative AI technology…allows our employees to continue focusing on making great food and building relationships with fans," said Todd Penegor, Wendy’s CEO.

About the Author(s)

Scarlett Evans

Assistant Editor, IoT World Today

Scarlett Evans is the assistant editor for IoT World Today, with a particular focus on robotics and smart city technologies. Scarlett has previous experience in minerals and resources with Mine Australia, Mine Technology and Power Technology. She joined Informa in April 2022.

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