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AI at the Drive-Thru: Wendy's and Google Cloud are Piloting FreshAI to Assist Customers


When I woke up this morning and cracked into today’s articles, I hadn’t considered the possibility of writing about Wendy’s.

(Little did I know, as it turns out.)

Though non-Wendy’s restaurants (e.g. Missouri’s Red’s Giant Hamburg and California’s In-N-Out Burger) are recognized as having established drive-thru service, Wendy’s has also gotten its share of credit for popularizing it. (And speaking of popular – besides the meal options millions of folks enjoy – I don’t know if you, readers, have ever seen the official Wendy’s Twitter account but whoever is in charge of running it is often quite hilarious.)

I digress; back to the news. In terms of drive-thru experiences, Wendy’s is looking to do more than just “stay hip with the times” and, instead, is full-on innovating alongside Google Cloud. The two companies recently announced an expansion to their ongoing partnership via the piloting of a new AI solution.

Yes, even Wendy’s is hopping aboard the AI hype train.

It’s called Wendy’s FreshAI. (Appropriate, given the Wendy’s “Fresh, Never Frozen Beef Since 1969” tagline.

Wendy’s FreshAI is, according to Wendy’s, “designed to revolutionize the quick service restaurant industry.” This AI has the potential to further modernize (I say “further” due to active drive-thru upgrades like digital screens, new ordering systems, etc.) the drive-thru ordering experiences with Google Cloud’s generative AI and large language model technology.

This June, Wendy’s plans to launch the first pilot of FreshAI in a Columbus, Ohio, area. There, feedback on FreshAI will be aggregated and later used to improve this smart drive-thru process.

As drivers pull up to this particular drive-thru, an automated voice will converse with them. It will ask questions when necessary, generate responses to FAQs and readily understand made-to-order requests before the drivers pull up to the window to pay and snag their bounties of food. Or perhaps just one Frosty; hard to go wrong there.

Per Todd Penegor, Wendy’s CEO, “Wendy's introduced its first modern pick-up window more than 50 years ago. Today, we're thrilled to continue our work with Google Cloud to bring a new wave of innovation to our drive-thru experiences. Google Cloud's strides in generative AI technologies have created a huge opportunity to deliver differentiated, faster and frictionless experiences, specifically from us to our customers. With FreshAI, our employees can continue focusing on making great food and building relationships that keep people coming back time and again.”

We’ll see how FreshAI fares, given a number of additional factors. Such include the AI handling seasonal menu items being requested (rather than just evergreen items), as well as “off menu” requests, dietary restrictions being processed, ambient noise being a possible disruption (i.e. in a city-esque environment, not just a quieter suburban one), general conversation guardrails that leave little-to-no room for incorrect processing of customer orders, the AI providing menu misinformation, and more to uphold “Wendy’s exceptional service of fast, fresh-made food.”

Edited by Greg Tavarez
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