Your Fast-Food Order May Be Taken by A.I. Soon

Trial program is being rolled out at Wendy's next month
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 12, 2023 2:52 PM CDT
Your Fast-Food Order May Be Taken by A.I. Soon
A customer pulls up to the drive-thru window at a Wendy's restaurant in Marshfield, Mass.   (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Wendy's says drive-thru customers at one of its restaurants will soon be giving their orders to a "very conversational" AI chatbot instead of a human. The burger chain says the Wendy's FreshAI system, developed with Google Cloud, will be launched in a test program at a Columbus, Ohio, restaurant next month, QSR reports. The company's software engineers worked with Google to add terms Wendy's customers use to the existing language model, including JBC for junior bacon cheeseburger and Frosties for milkshakes, reports the Wall Street Journal. The chatbot will send orders to human line cooks and humans will hand food to customers.

"It will be very conversational," Wendy's CEO Todd Penegor says. "You won’t know you’re talking to anybody but an employee," he said. Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud, tells the Journal that handling drive-thru orders might seem like an easy task for AI but its "actually one of the hardest." He says the chatbot has to filter out extraneous noise like music or children in cars and deal with problems like customers changing their minds halfway through ordering. Wendy's says the system will be monitored by human employees during the trial phase, and customers will have the option of speaking to a person if the AI gets their order wrong.

Wendy's says the plan is not to replace human employees, but to reduce wait times "so employees can focus on serving up fast, fresh, quality food and building relationships with fans that keep them coming back." The company says tests in Columbus have shown that the system is at least the equal of its best human drive-thru workers, but critics including Emma Roth at the Verge have their doubts. "Maybe I’m a pessimist, but I’m skeptical about how this works out in the long term," she writes. "People can barely handle the cashier-less kiosks at McDonald's, and now you want them to talk to an AI." (More Wendy's stories.)

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