Wendy’s, the global fast-food chain, is set to launch an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot for its drive-thru service. Powered by Google’s natural-language software, the chatbot is part of the fast-food giant’s efforts to automate their customer service and enhance the efficiency of their drive-thru operations.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Wendy’s Chief Executive Todd Penegor revealed that the chatbot is expected to debut in June at a company-operated restaurant in Columbus, Ohio. He emphasized that the chatbot will deliver a conversational experience so seamless that customers might not realize they aren’t interacting with a human employee.

The development of the chatbot involves Wendy’s software engineers collaborating with Google to create a large language model capable of understanding diverse dialects, accents, common expressions, and even Wendy’s unique acronyms, such as “JBC” for a junior bacon cheeseburger.

“Google Cloud’s generative AI technology provides an immense opportunity for us to offer a truly distinctive, faster, and seamless experience for our customers,” Penegor said in a separate discussion with Gizmodo. He added that this innovation will allow their employees to focus on preparing great food and fostering customer relationships.

The chatbot is programmed to upsell by suggesting combos or larger sizes to customers. After an order is processed, the preparation and packaging of the food will still be handled by human staff, although the potential for future automation, including robot chefs, was hinted at.

Wendy’s Chief Information Officer Kevin Vasconi told The Wall Street Journal that the chatbot is expected to outperform even their best customer service representatives in terms of service speed and consistency. Considering that 80% of Wendy’s orders are drive-thru, this could significantly enhance their service delivery.

The move towards automation is not unique to Wendy’s. Other fast-food chains like McDonald’s are also exploring AI-powered drive-thrus and fully automated restaurants, signaling a broader trend in the industry. This shift, however, raises concerns about potential job losses.

According to market research firm IBISWorld, over 5 million people are employed in the US fast-food industry. A recent Goldman report estimated that generative AI could potentially automate up to a quarter of current work, threatening approximately 300 million full-time jobs globally. The fast-food industry appears to be at the forefront of this wave of automation, pointing to an uncertain future for its workforce.


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