Not Lovin’ It? McDonald’s Bails on AI Drive-Thru Trial


Global fast food giant McDonald’s is ending a two-year test of using artificial intelligence to take customer orders in its drive-thrus. While the specific technology, provided by IBM, is being phased out next month, according to a report by Restaurant Business, the company still sees a place for AI in its order-taking process.

McDonald’s began testing the drive-thru chatbot in October 2021, to determine if AI-powered automation could speed up customer service. Claiming that automated order taking “has shown substantial benefits to customers and the restaurant crew experience,” the AI pilot was deployed at over 100 locations.

The experiment did not go off without a hitch, as customers complained the chatbot routinely got orders wrong, asking if one customer would like bacon on their ice cream. Even though failed interactions went viral on social media, however, McDonald’s said AI would be interacting with its customers again.

“As we move forward, our work with IBM has given us the confidence that a voice-ordering solution for drive-thru will be part of our restaurants’ future,” McDonald’s told Restaurant Business. “We see tremendous opportunity in advancing our restaurant technology and will continue to evaluate long-term, scalable solutions that will help us make an informed decision on a future voice ordering solution by the end of the year.”

McDonald’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Decrypt.

Many fast food companies are looking to leverage artificial intelligence. In September, Wendy’s partnered with Gemini AI developer Google to bring its large language model (LLM) chatbots to its drive-thru lines—saying they wanted to “set our employees up to be in a position to succeed and make their lives a little bit easier in the restaurant.”

The companies acknowledged at the outset that implementation wouldn’t be easy.

“Automating the drive-thru so restaurant employees can focus on creating great customer experiences is a challenge [our] industry has tried to solve for years but has not done so successfully at-scale,” Wendy’s Chief Information Officer Matt Spessard said at the time. “With 75 to 80 percent of Wendy’s fans choosing the drive-thru, delivering a seamless ordering experience using artificial intelligence (AI) in restaurants can be difficult due to complexities of menu options, special requests, and ambient noise.”

Others bringing generative AI to the fast food industry include Del Taco, and Checkers & Rally’s, which partnered with drive-thru AI developer Presto to automate its order-taking using its Presto Voice generative AI.

While companies are eager to take advantage of the potential increase in speed and decrease in labor costs AI can potentially bring, workers fear being replaced by generative AI. Last year, Pew Research released its study following a survey of 11,004 U.S. adults. According to the study, 32% of Americans believed AI hiring and evaluating workers is likely to harm applicants and employees.

In August, researchers at IBM said roughly 1.4 billion around 40% of workers will need new job training because of the integration of artificial intelligence into the workforce.

Edited by Ryan Ozawa.

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