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McDonald's Is Testing This New Tech That Could Change the Way You Order

AI technology could remove human interaction from the drive-thru lane.
FACT CHECKED BY Mura Dominko

The McDonald's drive-thru experience may soon come without one aspect customers have counted on for decades: human interaction. And while we're still a ways away from robots handing you your food, the order-taking part may soon be handled entirely by an automated system that can understand what you're saying.

Business Insider reports that McDonald's is rolling out voice recognition systems at about a dozen drive-thrus, all in the Chicago market, that will serve as the first test case for an AI-based ordering process. The company's CEO Chris Kempczinski stated that the new technology is currently accurate in how it receives an order about 85% of the time, with a few cases still needing the assistance of an actual human employee. The AI systems could eventually lead to a better customer experience as well as lower labor requirements. But a national rollout of this technology won't happen any time soon.

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"Now there's a big leap from going to 10 restaurants in Chicago to 14,000 restaurants across the U.S., with an infinite number of promo permutations, menu permutations, dialect permutations, weather—and on and on and on," Kempczinski said.

This drive-thru AI tech is yet another example of the company's stride toward automation and technology that can ultimately drive down operating costs. The chain has already advanced in that arena with the introduction of the McDonald's mobile app. In recent years, and especially during the pandemic, McDonald's has made a major push to get customers to place orders and schedule food deliveries through the app, a piece of software that has grown in popularity largely thanks to "some great deals."

Digital ordering has also been available inside McDonald's restaurants since 2015, when the chain began rolling out digital self-serve kiosks in its dining rooms. Customers can use them to place orders without face-to-face interaction with employees, and the process is complete with customization and substitution options.

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Steven John
Steven John is a freelancer writer for Eat This, Not That! based just outside New York City. Read more