In a nutshell: Your next interaction at the drive-thru could be with an AI chatbot instead of a human order-taker, and you might not even know it. Fast-food giant Wendy's has partnered with Google to trial an artificial intelligence chatbot at one of its restaurants in its home state of Ohio. The chatbot will be trained to understand how customers typically order items from the menu and interact in a natural way.
According to Wendy's Chief Executive Todd Penegor, the test bot will be "very conversational" and some customers might not even realize they aren't talking to a human employee.
Software engineers with Wendy's have been working with the search giant to tweak its large language model for keywords and phrases specific to menu ordering. The company's milkshakes are known as Frosties, for example, but some customers might simply refer to them as a milkshake. Other Wendy's slang including "biggie bag" is also being integrated into the chatbot's vocabulary.
The order-taking chatbot will also have to deal with other variables that are unique to the drive-thru lane, such as background chatter from other people in a vehicle talking, the radio playing, or even loud engines and exhaust tones. Furthermore, customers' indecisiveness will have to be accounted for. How often have you changed your mind midway through the order process?
Kevin Vasconi, Wendy's chief information officer, said early tests have been promising. "It's at least as good as our best customer service representative, and it's probably on average better," he said.
In what should come as a surprise to absolutely nobody, the order-taking chatbot has also been programmed to upsell. It'll routinely ask if you'd like a larger size or be interested in a daily special.
Penegor said the goal of the chatbot is to help reduce long lines from forming in the drive-thru lane, which could prompt some potential customers to go elsewhere. In my experience with most fast food joints, it's not the long lines that turn customers away but rather, the slow pace and incorrect nature in which an order is prepared in the kitchen that's the problem. Other establishments like Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out Burger figured this out long ago and can successfully manage long lines with efficiency.
The Wendy's chatbot rollout will start in June at a company-owned location in Columbus, Ohio.