Reviewer says Carl's Jr.'s new AI drive-thru system made him feel "sad"

Fast-food chains are adopting AI assistants for order-taking, but the experiences may not meet customer expectations. Ian Carlos Campbell from Inverse shares a firsthand account of using Carl's Jr.'s AI drive-thru. The introduction of this technology follows Presto Automation's systems that automate ordering, aiming for quicker service and less stress for employees. However, Campbell disliked the AI order-taker's awkward silences and upselling attempts.

Ordering was easy. I was immediately upsold on trying some new signature sandwich, to which I responded "no" and continued with my own order. The AI was able to handle common requests, like leaving onions off my burger, and substitutions without any issues. While I attempted to trip up the machine, my order was updated on a large screen centered below the menu. There was a slight delay each time the AI had to change things, sure, but it didn't take longer than a few seconds. Even still, when a fast food employee pauses, there's at least some feedback. Maybe I hear them entering an order, or maybe their microphone picks up the kitchen behind them, or maybe they even make a noise as they're thinking. In contrast, Carl's Jr.'s AI is silent when it's making changes, creating awkward pauses that would probably feel more acceptable if I knew for sure I was dealing with another person. Instead, I was upsold again on a slice of chocolate cake.

Once everything was ordered, I was told how much I had to pay and drove to the next window, where a living and breathing person confirmed my order and took my card so I could pay. They didn't seem noticeably less stressed or in a hurry than any other fast food worker I've talked to, and if anything, they seemed concerned at how many times I changed my order trying to fool the AI. Maybe there was some kind of hidden benefit I was missing from my privileged view in the driver's seat. When I asked the worker who took my card if the automated system made the process feel different, they looked at me confused that I'd asked, grimaced, and then said they'd prefer not to share. With a line behind me, I wasn't going to force the issue.

Campbell's final verdict of his AI drive-thru experience is largely critical. He suggests that while the AI system might offer some efficiency benefits for the business, such as upselling and potentially quicker order processing, it does not improve the customer experience. Campbell said the interaction with the AI felt more transactional, and it was clear to him that the AI is prioritizing business efficiency and profits over genuine customer service improvements.

See also: Carls Jr. commercial from 1997 stars a bloodthirsty plant

[Via The Browser]