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In 2021, Google Cloud started working with Wendy’s. Late last year, Wendy’s launched Google-backed beta AI drive-thru ordering in select Ohio restaurants. Now, Wendy’s is encouraging all its franchisees to test the bot. Why? It actually works pretty well for drivers.

I live in Columbus, Ohio, where Wendy’s is headquartered. There’s a restaurant just down the road from the house. Google’s generative AI greets you at the drive-thru menu. You can order items pretty much however you normally would, and the bot will convert voice-to-text on the screen for you before adding your item to the order box.

Since Google’s behind the scenes, you don’t even need to stick to the menu. These are “pre-trained AI models,” according to Google Cloud’s blog. You can ask conversational or even trivia questions and receive a prompt answer.

After ordering and getting your total, you make your way to the window, where a human takes your payment and hands you the order. No clarifications needed.

Overall, it’s a relatively smooth process. While I’m somewhat of a Luddite with certain things, I have to admit I’ve certainly had much worse service with human staff.

A silver sedan parked at a Wendy's drive-thru window
Wendy’s drive-thru window | hapabapa via iStock

Presto Automation has been helping fast-food chains test AI services for a few years. Its clients include Carl’s Jr., Checkers, Del Taco, Hardee’s, and Rally’s, among others. Presto now operates AI voice ordering at 145 restaurants in the U.S. However, Del Taco and others have decided to move away from Presto services.

Its voice assistance technology apparently only completes 30% of its clients’ drive-thru orders. In one iteration, employees still had to enter each order and check for accuracy. The Takeout reported that multiple restaurant groups are turning away from Presto due to these quirks and customer response. Del Taco had planned to install Presto tech in 600 locations but shared it isn’t moving forward with those plans now.

Will Google start dominating the restaurant world before other AI companies get good footing? Either way, it’s not looking great for humans depending on jobs in fast food. We’ll likely see more and more “low-skilled” jobs going to bots across industries.