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Wendy’s CEO highlights AI drive-thru deal with Google, a late-night opportunity

Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor told CNBC’s Jim Cramer on Wednesday that the fast-food chain’s artificial intelligence partnership with Google is the “first step” toward further technology changes at the restaurants.

Wendy’s and Alphabet-owned Google worked to create an AI chatbot specifically designed for drive-thru ordering. The Ohio-based burger chain will run an AI drive-thru pilot program at several Columbus-area locations starting in June, Penegor told Cramer.

This new drive-thru feature aims to “take out the slowest point in the ordering process, ordering at the speaker box,” to create a more pleasant restaurant experience, the CEO said. “We’re going to learn a lot. First step on a lot of innovation,” he added.

Penegor emphasized its commitment to modernizing Wendy’s over the next few quarters, emphasizing the opportunity with, for example, digital menu boards. All told, Penegor said Wendy’s is trying to “drive the restaurant of the future” with these initiatives.

In addition to technology-focused changes, Penegor said another area of ‚Äč‚Äčopportunity lies in Wendy’s hours. “We’re going to lean into late night,” he said. “We know we’ve under-indexed and have an opportunity to drive a lot of growth” by targeting the late-night audience.

Earlier Wednesday, Wendy’s reported better-than-expected first-quarter results, with total revenue of $528.8 million, up 8.2% from a year earlier and beating the consensus estimate of $522 million. The company’s earnings per share were $0.21, just one cent higher than expected.

But despite beating the top and bottom lines, Wendy’s declined to raise its full-year guidance, which may have helped the stock fall about 2% at its Wednesday low. Shares of Wendy’s, however, climbed back to finish higher by 1% on Wednesday, at $23.21 each.

Disclaimer: Jim Cramer’s Charitable Trust owns shares in Alphabet.

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