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What Is the Latest Fast-Food Chain to Bring AI to the Drive-Thru?

Margaret Lipman
Updated May 17, 2024
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Ordering from a drive-thru is about to change – though you might not even notice. Like most industries, fast-food restaurants are grappling with how to integrate artificial intelligence into their operations to make them smoother and more profitable. And while some companies have tried to allay fears that AI will be replacing human employees, chatbots and voicebots are already taking customers’ orders at certain outlets – and they're doing a good job, too.

Wendy’s is the most recent company to introduce AI to its drive-thru, which is the heart of its business, with over three-quarters of customers preferring to order that way. Yet Wendy’s describes the speaker box as the slowest point in the ordering process. The goal is to utilize AI to keep the drive-thru service moving more efficiently and with fewer mistakes.

Wendy's plans to start testing the program next month at a location in Columbus, Ohio. Powered by Google Cloud’s AI technology, Wendy’s FreshAI has been trained in Wendy’s-specific terms such as “Frosty.” The chatbot is able to converse with customers, take their orders (including special requests), and even encourage them to upgrade to a larger size or try out menu specials. After the conversation (during which the customer may not realize they're talking to a chatbot), the order will be confirmed onscreen and then sent to the kitchen.

May AI take your order?

  • Carl’s Jr. and Hardees are already using AI voicebots at some drive-thrus and are planning to expand the program. Popeyes has also tried out an AI chatbot at a Louisiana outlet, and many other chains are currently developing similar initiatives.

  • In a press release about Wendy’s FreshAI, the company sidestepped addressing how this would affect jobs for human employees, instead stating that “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.”

  • A Wendy’s employee will be on hand to oversee the AI and interact with customers who request a human presence. There is plenty of room for AI error, considering challenges like mishearing customer orders, special menu requests, and the billions of possible order combinations.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
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Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
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