AI is coming to a fast food restaurant near you

Photo (c) Jet City Image - Getty Images

But can it improve service? We'll soon find out.

If fast food restaurants continue to struggle to staff up, maybe technology can lend a hand.

The next time you’re in the drive-thru lane at your favorite fast food restaurant, you might have found your way into the industry’s newest innovation – using artificial intelligence (AI) to interface with customers.

Companies like Wendy’s, Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, and Del Taco have already recruited AI developers to see how far the technology can take them in an effort to improve service.

The latest Restaurant Technology Report says that most restaurant leaders don’t use artificial intelligence yet, but they’re more likely to be interested than not in adopting AI -- 28% of the operators polled said it's the tech tool they're eyeing next.

Of course, the big prizes are efficiency and profitability. Del Taco is putting its neck out the furthest so far, saying that its Presto Voice technology is already operating 24/7 at select locations and “significantly helping operations by improving labor productivity, increasing suggestive selling, and boosting guest and staff experience.”

Wendy's will test it starting in June

Wendy’s pilot test will begin in June, partnering with Google to use AI to converse with customers. Those customers might want to pull back on their chattiness, though. The AI that the chain is using will have “conversation guardrails” and is focused more on understanding made-to-order requests and generating responses to frequently asked questions. 

As for McDonald’s using AI, the company has already tried the technology, but it was in 2021 before AI was as developed and widespread as it is now. When McDonald’s experimented with AI, its accuracy rate was 85%, but there were rather public blunders that made their way to TikTok like where one user claimed that when she placed an order for sweet tea, hash browns, and a Coke, the AI added a Diet Coke to the order.

When the customer asked the AI assistant to remove the Diet Coke from the order, it did – but, it also added nine sweet teas as well.

Subway has taken a different approach with AI, mainly because it’s not a drive-thru-based operation. Its new refrigerated vending machines allow customers to ask “Hey, Subway, is there mayo on that roast beef sub?” as well as other questions about the selections inside. 

AI-inspired menu items and decor, too 

If AI can write songs and draw pictures, then it can certainly whip together some menu ideas. TheTakeOut reports that when Shake Shack recently added dairy-free, plant-based desserts to its menu, those items actually came from an AI brain. 

By analyzing animal-based dairy on a molecular level, the AI was able to identify plant-based molecules that best mimic the characteristics that make the food appealing. The outcome? A non-dairy chocolate frozen custard and a non-dairy chocolate shake.

For sit-down diners, they can expect to see more AI-inspired menus and décor moving forward, too. Recently, Israeli chef Tom Aviv used an AI image generator to design the menu and décor at his first U.S. restaurant, Branja in Miami. One of his menu additions came out of a “make a chocolate mousse inspired by Picasso” prompt he gave the generator.

“Creating menu concepts and pairings is currently all done by humans, but I think that could eventually be replaced by AI technology,” Marbet Lewis, founding attorney for hospitality and restaurant industry law firm, Spiritus Law, told NRN.

Check Your Personal Loan Rates

It's free and won't impact your credit score