McDonald’s failed at AI-powered drive-thru: Could Wendy’s FreshAI chatbots do better?

The AI ordering process is developed by Google's large-language models after analyzing Wendy's menu, policies, and conversation guide.
Sejal Sharma
A Wendy's outlet
A Wendy's outlet.


The next time someone places an order for a hamburger at Wendy's drive-thru, they might be greeted by an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot rather than a human operator.

In a bid to modernize and automate the fast-food experience, Wendy's is planning to launch AI chatbots in its drive-thrus, which will be powered by Google Cloud's generative AI and large language models (LLMs) technology. The fast-food chain's first "Wendy's FreshAI" will be rolled out in June in Columbus, Ohio.

"It will be very conversational," said Wendy's Chief Executive Todd Penegor in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. "You won't know you're talking to anybody but an employee."

The fast-food chain will use the learnings from the pilot launch to make a robust plan to expand AI drive-thrus across the country. Trained to adapt to the different ways in which customers place their orders, Wendy's FreshAI will be able to have conversations with customers, understand their made-to-order requests and generate responses to frequently asked questions. 

Almost 80% of Wendy's customers use drive-thrus

Google's foundational large-language models have developed this new automated ordering experience after learning Wendy's menu data, its business rules and regulations, and a guide to keep the conversation between humans and the AI on track. 

By leveraging generative AI, Wendy's seeks to take the complexity out of the ordering process so employees can focus on serving up fast, fresh-made, quality food and exceptional service, said the company in a statement.

"Wendy's has always been at the forefront of innovation, and we're thrilled to build upon our partnership with the company with our new generative AI technologies," said Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud.

"Generative AI is fundamentally changing how people interact with brands, and 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."

Its rival, Mcdonalds, did something similar at the beginning of this year when it opened an AI-powered drive-thru system. However, it did not receive positive feedback from a frenzied customer base who posted TikTok videos commenting on how the service is ill-prepared. Mcdonalds' began testing AI-powered technology at its outlets as long back as 2021, when it partnered with IBM.

However, the most important question is how much of the human workforce will be replaced by the advent of AIs taking over drive-thrus.

Wendy's has approximately 14,500 employees worldwide, with Mcdonalds employing 150,000 people on its payroll. ​​A recent report by Goldman Sachs said that AI could replace 300 million full-time jobs, which is a worrisome figure.

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