SINCE 1988

Wendy’s is Giving Franchisees the Option to Test its Drive-Thru AI Chatbot

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Wendy’s first partnered with Google Cloud in 2021 to “create new ways customers can order food at the drive-thru.” Earlier this year, that partnership extended to an AI chatbot test at a company-operated drive-thru near Wendy’s headquarters outside of Columbus, Ohio.

The chain must like what it sees so far; the test has since expanded to four company-operated restaurants, with more company-owned locations coming online by the end of this year and into next year. And, in a company blog published this week, Wendy’s announced it is expanding its test of the AI-powered chatbot to franchisees’ restaurants, giving them the option to explore the technology at their drive-thrus in 2024. The company said this expansion is in response to franchisee interest.

The generative AI platform, called Wendy’s FreshAI, understands casual dialect, according to the company, and has proven to be more nimble than a traditional rule-based AI chatbot.

Experimenting with traditional rule-based AI chatbots can take years of development and tremendous work to maintain, modify and expand capabilities. Unlike traditional rule-based systems, Wendy’s FreshAI uses generative AI to generate responses and adapt in real-time instead of just following a narrow set of rules,” the company said.

Wendy’s added that the system personalizes each order. It has also tightened up operations, with one test site showing service times 22 seconds faster than its market average. Further, the company notes Wendy’s FreshAI accuracy success rate is nearly 99%, while accurate orders during the test without employee intervention averaged 86%. Notably, as the test expands, Wendy’s developed a feedback loop with “key audiences” to help work through any pain points.

“We continue to work closely with our partners in operations and at the restaurant as we evolve Wendy’s FreshAI for our customers and crew while bringing more locations online. In fact, our Wendy’s technology and operations teams have spent thousands of hours working from the dining rooms of our restaurants to observe and talk to the crew and customers about their experience,” the company wrote.

Despite early positive signs, the company notes it will not deploy too widely too quickly and adds that it is still in the early stages of iterating the system. The company also said it plans to expand Wendy’s FreshAI to new channels, including the company’s app, in-restaurant kiosks, mobile devices, smart home devices and more.

Wendy’s expanded test comes as chains scramble to maximize drive-thru experiences and efficiencies. The channel has become table stakes for busy consumers who are also becoming more amenable to such tech innovations.


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