AI Chatbots To Work the Mic for America’s Favorite Ginger

Bruce VanLoon /
Bruce VanLoon /

Get ready for your fast-food experience to become more streamlined with the use of AI.

Wendy’s is taking steps to be the first fast food chain to automate its drive-thru experience according to The Wall Street Journal. With AI chatbot and Google’s proprietary natural language processing technology, they hope to completely revolutionize fast food. Testing first in Columbus, OH restaurants, the chief information officer Kevin Vasconi claimed the tests went amazingly well. “It’s at least as good as our best customer service representative, and it’s probably on average better.”

Chief Executive Todd Penegor explained the need for the decision. “The goal is to get more customers through the drive-through in the shortest amount of time, picking up extra sales for every minute or so shaved off the ordering process.” However, he acknowledges some may be against it initially. “It will be very conversational. You won’t realize you’re speaking with anyone other than an employee.”

Engaging Wendy’s software engineers with Google to create a generative AI to work seamlessly with Google’s large language model is not easy. Inputting numerous expressions in slang, abbreviations, and expressions that customers most commonly use is difficult at best. In places like the deep South, NYC, and the Appalachian Valley things change very quickly, and keeping up can be near impossible.

Yet, they are dead set on this idea. While it will mean the elimination or at the least re-training of certain job duties, the writing is on the wall for AI to replace the drive-thru workers. From the kiosks on tables at restaurants to cash out, to the digital ordering screens inside fast food restaurants, the warning signs have been in our faces for years.

For what it’s worth, Wendy’s and other fast-food eateries have been conditioning us for this with the implementation of AI/pre-recorded welcome messages since COVID kicked in.

As employees earning minimum wage are begging for an increase in the rate, the reality of the situation is beginning to hit many of them squarely in the head – minimum wage level work is the most easily replaced by AI. While robotics and AI are used in incredibly complex and nuanced things like brain surgery and micro-soldering, they found one of their earliest homes in robotics.

When AI and computerized welders were first introduced on assembly line floors, many were skeptical about their abilities. With early attempts coming up short, people were quick to assume that human workers would be returning to their original posts. After some minor adjustments, though, the robots were there to stay. Since then, they have been increasingly popular in other industries.

This made their implementation in fast-food a total no-brainer. While many hope that these cost savings will result in lower menu prices, they will likely only result in a positive impact on their shareholders. Getting the consumer to get behind this will be simple.

For ages now, the voice talking to you at the drive-thru is rarely the person you see at the window. So while the voice of an angel might be taking your order for a number 4 with a Dr. Pepper, you’ll still have the same slob working the window, throwing your order at you for now.

As it stands, other restaurants are already experimenting with human worker-free fast-food experiences. While they will have humans there on standby in case things go wrong, the public will never see them. For Wendy’s, this will likely be the next natural transition should the AI and chatbot integration at the drive-thru go correctly. With early samples reporting faster and more accurate orders, customers are happier with the new experience.