News Briefs


Wendy's Pilots Google Cloud's Generative AI

Wendys global next gen drivethru

Wendy's and Google Cloud announced an expanded partnership to pilot an artificial intelligence (AI) solution, Wendy's FreshAI. The technology has the potential to transform Wendy's drive-thru food ordering experience with Google Cloud's generative AI and large language models (LLMs) technology.

Demand for Drive-Thru

With 75 to 80 percent of Wendy's customers choosing the drive-thru as their preferred ordering channel, delivering a seamless ordering experience using AI automation can be difficult due to the complexities of menu options, special requests, and ambient noise. For example, because customers can fully customize their orders and food is prepared when ordered at Wendy's, this presents billions of possible order combinations available on the Wendy's menu, leaving room for miscommunication or incorrect orders. Google Cloud's generative AI capabilities can now bring a new automated ordering experience to the drive-thru that is intended to enhance the experience that customers, employees and franchisees expect from Wendy's. As HT reported last month, one Wendy's franchise, Wenspoke, is expanding its use of AI in the drive-thrus.

"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," said Todd Penegor, President and CEO of the Dublin, Ohio-based QSR. "Google Cloud's generative AI technology creates a huge opportunity for us to deliver a truly differentiated, faster and frictionless experience for our customers, and allows our employees to continue focusing on making great food and building relationships with fans that keep them coming back time and again."

Pilot Near HQ

In June, Wendy's plans to launch its first pilot of Google Cloud's AI technology in a Columbus, Ohio-area, Company-operated restaurant, using those learnings to inform future expansions to more Wendy's drive-thrus. The pilot will include new generative AI offerings, such as Vertex AI and more, to have conversations with customers, the ability to understand made-to-order requests and generate responses to frequently asked questions. 

This will all be powered by Google's foundational 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. 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.

Today's update builds upon Google Cloud's and Wendy's long standing partnership to enhance the Wendy's restaurant experience. Since 2021, Wendy's has leveraged Google Cloud's data analytics, AI, machine learning (ML), and hybrid cloud tools to make it faster, easier, and more convenient for customers to access the brand.


User-Generated Social Mapping Platform Raises $18M

gps mobile phone app

Atly, the user-generated social mapping platform purpose-built for discovering places to go and things to do, today announced its official launch with $18 million in funding from Target GlobalTal Ventures, and FKA Brands to offer users seamless, effective, and trustworthy location-based content. In its open beta to date, Atly witnessed thousands of user-created community-based maps, with hundreds of new maps generated organically each month across verticals like food and restaurants, travel, nature and the outdoors, parenting, and more.

Digital search is currently undergoing a massive transformation as people turn to an ever-growing list of resources beyond traditional search engines to decide their next moves. Often, they rely on social media over Google Search and Google Maps for destination, activity, and purchase recommendations that feel authentic, up-to-date, and personally curated for them. But platforms like TikTok and Facebook weren't purpose-built for location-based discovery. Social media users are forced to dig through never-ending streams of stories and posts, whose usefulness counterintuitively dissipates the more information is shared, and are faced with limited location-based search, filtering, and bookmarking capabilities. Meanwhile, creators and businesses suffer limited monetization among an audience not necessarily intent on immediately visiting the places they discover while scrolling aimlessly. As a result, people pay the price of wasted time and effort as well as inferior real-life experiences, and creators and businesses suffer lower ROI.

Atly leverages social media-like user-generated knowledge with mapping and location discovery tools to help people find their new favorite places. In the Atly app, users create and join map-based communities centered around the things they love. Atly creates a go-to source for previously unmapped content and surfaces gems of information from like-minded people that allow users to trust in the authenticity, integrity, and specificity of every recommendation they uncover. In doing so, Atly gives people intent on discovery the confidence that they're sure to enjoy the places they visit, and creators and businesses are met with higher conversion. The funding will allow Atly to invest in state-of-the-art algorithms and overall performance, to release much anticipated product features and updates, and to collaborate with additional creators. The app is available in the App Store or Google Play Store.


Muscogee Casinos Adds Mobile App with Cashless Gaming, Loyalty

a close up of a screen of a cell phone

Muscogee (Creek) Nation Casinos in Oklahoma have launched the Muscogee Creek Mobile App at all nine locations.

Designed for optimized player engagement, the Everi Mobile App gives casino guests the power of self service and features the operator's branding. Core functions of Everi Mobile include tie-ins to Everi's CashClub Wallet for cashless gaming, extensions of the operator's loyalty program, property content management tools, and marketing opportunities.

"With Everi's mobile platform, our guests have the ability to extend their casino experience along with the benefits of engaging with our loyalty program from their mobile devices," said Andy Langston, Chief Operating Officer, Muscogee (Creek) Nation Casinos.  

Phase one of the Muscogee Creek Mobile App rollout includes three main modules, offering opportunities for additional player engagement, mobile marketing, and pushing property content. To further engage Muscogee (Creek) Nation players, the Muscogee Creek Mobile App technology extends loyalty services to players' mobile devices, including for offers, drawings, promos, and event calendars.

The Muscogee Creek Mobile App also helps players find restaurants on the property to make reservations, directs players to other F&B outlets, highlights property entertainment experiences, and displays other hotel amenities.



Panera Launches Drive-Thru Pickup Nationwide

Panera Bread drive-thru

Panera launches Drive-Thru Pick-Up, combining the ease of the digital ordering experience with the comfort and convenience of the drive-thru window.

Guests can now choose the Drive-Thru Pick-Up option when ordering ahead on the Panera app or website to get their favorite Panera order at the Drive-Thru without leaving their vehicle.  

Digital sales at Panera represent more than 50 percent of total system sales, and with more than three million average transactions each week from digital channels including the app, kiosk and web. Panera guests continue to seek their favorite soups, salads, sandwiches and more with the increased convenience, customization, speed and ease that the digital experience enables. Panera bakery-cafes featuring Drive-Thru Pick-Up will still offer the traditional Drive-Thru experience with the ability to order at the Drive-Thru screen. With Drive-Thru Pick-Up, guests who order ahead can simply announce their name at the speaker and pull ahead to the window - which allows for an even faster and more convenient way to pick up their order.

“Panera pioneered the idea of digital ordering in the restaurant industry, and for years, our guests have loved the option to order ahead and pick their items up on the Rapid Pick-Up® shelf,” said Chris Correnti, SVP, Channels and Guest Experience, Panera Bread. “Now we’re extending that convenience to the drive-thru, giving our guests another fast and convenient way to get their favorite Panera meal.”

Panera has continually invested in the digital guest experience creating new ways to order and receive food, including in-cafe kiosk, Rapid Pick-Up, Contactless Dine-In and now Drive-Thru Pick-Up. The Panera app is one of the top-rated restaurant apps and MyPanera, Panera’s loyalty program that began in 2010, has more than 53 million members.


American Dairy Queen Adds Two VPs

Dairy Queen DQ logo

American Dairy Queen Corp. (ADQ), a subsidiary of International Dairy Queen Inc. (IDQ)  has two new hires to its international business team: Chris Wren, vice president of development, international, and Greg Kirian, vice president of marketing, international. Both executives will increase brand awareness and restaurant growth in countries outside of the U.S. and Canada.

Wren comes to ADQ with nearly three decades of experience in franchising and in the restaurant industry. He has held executive finance and development roles at CIT Bank, Dine Brands Global, Wingstop and Yum! Brands. Wren will oversee the strategy and execution of international business development in new and existing markets.

Kirian brings more than two decades of global food and beverage industry experience, including international marketing leadership roles at Little Caesar’s, Wingstop and Yum! Brands. In his role at ADQ, he will lead brand and marketing strategies for international markets.

“Given our aggressive business goals to expand the company’s global footprint outside of the U.S. and Canada, strong leadership in marketing and development roles will be critical,” said Nicolas Boudet, chief operating officer, international at American Dairy Queen Corporation. “Chris and Greg both add impressive and diverse portfolios of experience in global businesses. Their contributions will help us drive DQ restaurant growth and brand awareness in new and existing markets around the world.”

Through its subsidiaries, IDQ develops, licenses and services a system of more than 7,000 restaurants in over 20 countries.


Aavgo Partners With Econo Lodge Franchise Association as Exclusive Provider of Smart Reception Kiosks for Econo Lodge Hotels

aavgo kiosk

Aavgo, a cloud-based SaaS provider, announced an agreement with the Econo Lodge Franchise Association (EFLA) to offer its Smart Reception capabilities at the more than 700 Econo Lodge hotels across the U.S. and Canada. The partnership allows Econo Lodge owners to provide guests with a streamlined, personalized check-in experience while maximizing hotel profitability.

Aavgo’s Smart Reception kiosk connects guests with a certified and trained front-desk agent who is dedicated exclusively to helping manage operations at a single property. Real-time response agents are available to care for guests at check-in 24/7, 365 days a year, and Aavgo’s end-to-end platform offers all Econo Lodge hotels an all-in-one contactless solution designed to enhance the guest experience while reducing operational costs.

With Smart Reception, guests get all the services offered by a traditional front desk, such as check-in, receiving room keys, and speaking with a remote agent, which properties can provide without diverting scarce resources away from hotel operations.

Aavgo's remote agents provide a full scope of critical guest services, including:

  • Checking guests in and out, including managing both advance reservations and walk-ins.
  • Signing guests up for loyalty or rewards programs and informing them of their capabilities.
  • Managing payment transactions through cash, card swipes, EMV chips, Google Pay, Apple Pay, and more.
  • Responding directly to guests’ requests or questions about the hotel and the surrounding area.
  • Generating guestroom keys.

Through Smart Reception, remote front-desk agents can also provide assistance with administrative and clerical tasks, freeing onsite hotel workers to focus on direct guest interactions. Some of these back-of-the-house tasks include:

  • Managing the night audit process.
  • Responding directly to online reviews.
  • Opening, managing, and responding to housekeeping and maintenance ticket requests.
  • Answering phone calls to the property from both on-premise guests and off-property requests.

The flexibility and breadth of the Aavgo solution are especially timely for hotel owners in the current environment, in which staffing resources are tighter and more costly than ever. By utilizing the company’s Smart Reception service, hoteliers can ensure guests are always given the highest level of service, regardless of any operational limitations.

“We are excited to partner with Aavgo to welcome their remote front-desk technology to Econo Lodge,” said Pradip Patel, President of the ELFA. “This technology is helping hotel operators remain efficient and profitable in an environment that is increasingly competitive. Using Aavgo, our hoteliers will be positioned for success despite the many challenges limiting operations across hospitality.”

“Our recent agreement with the Econo Lodge Franchise Association is helping more hoteliers than ever take their tech edge to a new level in a hospitality labor market that is still in recovery,” said Mrunai Desai, Founder and CEO of Aavgo. “We are pleased to provide state-of-the-art, remote front desk support systems to any and all Econo Lodge hotels, giving guests access to a fully contactless stay experience while reducing the operational burden on hoteliers. Our certified and trained agents can perform any action associated with the front desk, including responding to guests, answering online reviews, and even managing night audit processes. As the oldest hospitality association in the United States, ELFA has been looking out for its members’ success and well-being since 1974. We are honored to be a part of their strategy for success and will continue to support hoteliers through technology going forward.”