Wendy’s Wants To Replace Workers With AI And Google Is Helping

Wendy's drive-thrus will start using AI to take customer orders.

By Sean Thiessen | Updated

Fears of AI taking jobs have swept the nation in recent months. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, the fast food chain Wendy’s, with the help of Google, is developing a chatbot to take orders at drive-thrus. The company claims that the move is not an attempt to replace workers but to make its employees more efficient.

Wendy’s and Google have been collaborating on technology solutions since 2021. In June, the chain will roll out the first chatbot drive-thru ordering system at a store in Columbus, Ohio. According to Wendy’s Chief Executive Todd Penegor, most customers will not know the difference.

“It will be very conversational,” Penegor said. “You won’t know you’re talking to anybody but an employee.”

Wendy’s reason for developing the technology is to improve the speed of its fast food drive-thrus in order to increase customer turnover and reduce the number of customers avoiding long drive-thru lines. In order to do that, they turned to Google.

Using AI to take orders at a drive-thru seems simple, but the concept poses a laundry list of problems. People use different words to mean the same things, change their minds mid-order, and often compete to be heard over music and other conversations in the car. Wendy’s software engineers teamed with Google to help solve those problems.

The companies are building their chatbot based on Google’s large language model (LLM), designed to generate natural response responses to prompts. On top of that, they are programming terms specific to Wendy’s in order to cover all of their bases for the different ways people order.

For example, a milkshake at Wendy’s is called a Frosty, but not everyone may call it that when ordering. Some customers say JBC to order a Junior Bacon Cheeseburger, or call a combo meal a biggie bag. The chatbot has to be able to interpret all of this accurately and deliver the order to the line cooks.

Wendy’s and Google have done test runs with their creation, and the results have been positive. The company reports that the chatbot is just as effective as its best customer service representatives, if not more.

That is good news for the company, as post-pandemic habits have increased drive-thru traffic significantly. Wendy’s used to get about two-thirds of its orders from the drive-thru. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, that number has risen to 80%.

Wendy’s recently announced a restructuring strategy in order to streamline its operations and reach sales growth. Still, its collaboration with Google and the rollout of the chatbot are not said to be part of that cost-cutting. The company states that the chatbot system is a tool meant to help its workers, not replace them.

The AI system automates manual tasks, freeing workers to focus more on the things machines cannot do. As Wendy’s and Google forge a new path forward for the fast food industry, other chains will likely be close behind. For now, human beings are still a part of the model.

AI is revolutionizing jobs and outpacing the establishment of regulations and best practices, causing a lot of anxiety in the workforce. In the case of Wendy’s, its new Google-powered chatbot may prove to be a fantastic tool for its workers. The precedent it sets, however, warrants a watchful eye.