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McDonald's Latest Drive-Thru Innovation Could Soon Be Added to More Locations

An industry analyst says the AI technology is getting more accurate.

It's hard to imagine pulling up to the McDonald's drive-thru and not being greeted by a human employee. But that's exactly what the chain seems to be working toward, as it continues testing a new AI-based technology system that would cut workers out of the order-taking portion of your visit.

Last year, McDonald's started testing a voice recognition system at 24 drive-thrus in the Chicago area. But the advanced technology, which would enable a computer to take customers' orders, is far from perfect. In order for the chain to make wider use of AI, the system needs to improve accuracy from the current low 80% to the 95%-plus range. That means McDonald's wants the drive-thru "robot" to be able to accurately interpret the vast majority of spoken orders with little room for error.

But restaurant industry analyst Peter Saleh recently shared with QSR Magazine that the technology could soon be ready for more widespread use. Saleh based his opinion on conversations with AI vendors and McDonald's franchisees.

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Mcdonald's drive thru

"One vendor, Presto, claims its voice ordering is about 95% accurate, can generate a 20-second improvement in throughput, and reduce labor by nine hours per day," he told the publication.

McDonald's has not chimed in on if or when the AI-based ordering solution will get a national rollout. The company's CEO Chris Kempczinski said last year that the technology still isn't anywhere near ready to make its way to all McDonald's locations.

"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.

Additionally, the technology isn't completely independent, still requiring some assistance from McDonald's employees.

While McDonald's has been testing the voice ordering system, many other fast-food and restaurant chains have also been making strides in the way of automation to improve efficiency and cut down on labor costs.

In October 2021, select Chili's restaurants have introduced robots that can run food and bus tables. And just this year, both Domino's and Chick-fil-A have begun testing autonomous delivery vehicles at select locations in Texas. 

Besides McDonald's AI-based ordering process, the chain has hinted at a few other technology improvements it's exploring. During a worldwide convention hosted in May, the chain presented new dual-lane drive-thru configurations, as well as a host of automation efforts for its kitchens.

Amber Lake
Amber Lake is a staff writer at Eat This, Not That! and has a degree in journalism from UNF in Jacksonville, Florida. Read more about Amber