Wendy’s Taps Google’s Conversational AI as Restaurants Automate the Drive-Thru


With the increasing consumer demand for convenient pickup options in the face of rapid restaurant price inflation, Wendy’s is boosting efficiency at its drive-thrus with the help of Google Cloud.

The quick-service restaurant (QSR) giant, which has roughly 7,000 restaurants around the world, announced Tuesday (May 9) that it is piloting the use of the cloud technology company’s generative artificial intelligence (AI) and large language models to automate the drive-thru ordering process, with the first such deployment to launch in June.

The move builds on Wendy’s existing partnership with the tech company.

“[W]e’re thrilled to continue our work with Google Cloud to bring a new wave of innovation to the drive-thru experience,” said Todd Penegor, president and CEO of Wendy’s, said in a statement. “Google Cloud’s generative AI technology creates a huge opportunity for us to deliver a truly differentiated, faster and frictionless experience for our customers, and allows our employees to continue focusing on making great food and building relationships with fans.”

Pickup is on the rise amid inflation, and restaurants are being challenged to find ways to meet this increased demand while mitigating their labor needs and protecting their margins.

Research from PYMNTS’ study “Connected Dining: Rising Costs Push Consumers Toward Pickup,” for which we surveyed more than 2,100 U.S. consumers in January, revealed that 48% of consumers have been more likely to pick up their restaurant orders themselves rather than have them delivered due to inflation.

Moreover, as the rise of digital ordering shifts restaurants’ total sales mix away from on-premise toward takeout options, pickup is nearly four times more popular than delivery. The same study found that 39% of restaurant customers reported having ordered their most recent meal for pickup, and only 10% did so for delivery.

Wendy’s move comes just days after CKE Restaurants, parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., announced a partnership with QSR voice technology company Valyant AI to automate order taking at the drive-thru with conversational AI, enabling the brand to take spoken orders without the typical labor costs.

“As a company, we’re always looking for ways to deliver a better guest experience through the introduction of new, emerging technologies,” CKE Chief Technology Officer Phil Crawford said in a statement. “The AI technology not only delivers on that vision but also enables our franchisees to adopt these new technologies into their tech ecosystem(s) in a streamlined and efficient manner.”

Indeed, many major restaurant chains have been turning to new technologies to boost drive-thru efficiency, reduce their labor needs and cut down customer wait times. Last month, QSR pizza giant Domino’s, which has nearly 20,000 locations across more than 90 countries, announced an integration with Apple CarPlay to power in-vehicle ordering, enabling consumers to make purchases via the pizza chain’s app on their car’s console by tapping or by calling.

These moves come as consumers increasingly turn to QSRs to get their food needs met, perceiving lower price increases at these restaurants than their full-service counterparts and taking advantage of their more frequent deals and coupons.