Wendy’s Set to Pilot AI-Powered Drive-Thru Ordering


Wendy’s and Google have teamed to bring artificial intelligence to the fast-food chain’s drive-thrus.

Starting in June, Wendy’s will test Google Cloud’s artificial intelligence (AI) technology at one of its restaurants in Columbus, Ohio, the quick-service restaurant (QSR) said in a news release Tuesday (May 9).

“Wendy’s introduced the first modern pick-up window in the industry more than 50 years ago, and we’re thrilled to continue our work with Google Cloud to bring a new wave of innovation to the drive-thru experience,” Wendy’s President and CEO Todd Penegor said in the release.

The technology, dubbed “Wendy’s FreshAI,” will “automate ordering while allowing Wendy’s customers to have conversations that feel as natural as interacting with employees — receiving quick answers to their questions and being understood, even if their order isn’t phrased exactly as it appears on menus,” the company said.

Wendy’s FreshAI will be powered by Google’s large language models (LLMs) “that have the data from Wendy’s menu, established business rules and logic for conversation guardrails, and integration with restaurant hardware and the Point of Sale system,” according to the release.

“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,” the company said.

The pilot program is happening at a time when voice AI in the drive-thru space “is evolving quickly,” as Presto Interim CEO Krishna Gupta told PYMNTS’ Karen Webster last month.

And as it evolves, he added, it is offering restaurants plagued by labor shortages and traditional snags at the drive-thru a better way to work.

“With OpenAI specifically and large language models in particular, our job is to integrate that into our existing product workflow and make things faster, more personalized, and provide capabilities that frankly weren’t there before,” Gupta said. “All those things matter in the drive-thru.”

He added the ChatGPT integration is also important because “as the voice becomes increasingly human-like, you can respond to edge cases, and you can do that more quickly because the speed of service matters so much to customers.”

Asked by Webster if Presto chose ChatGPT to improve order accuracy or experience, Gupta said, “It’s both. Higher accuracy is a goal of our team in general, and we’re at a very high degree of accuracy.” That means more happy customers, but also “allows the restaurant to either replace a full-time employee or have him or her focus on higher-value things.”