McDonald’s Stops Using AI for Drive-Thru Orders After Mixed Results

The introduction of generative AI in various industries, including restaurants, was initially expected to significantly disrupt job markets. However, recent developments indicate that AI technology is not yet advanced enough to replace human workers on a large scale.

McDonald’s, for example, has decided to discontinue its AI order-taking technology after a test period in over 100 drive-thrus. This decision came after a partnership with IBM, initiated in 2021, aimed at creating an automated voice-ordering solution to streamline operations and enhance customer experience.

McDonald’s embarked on this AI journey by acquiring Apprente, an AI speech company, in 2019 and subsequently creating McD Tech Labs, which IBM later acquired. During the testing phase, the AI voice recognition system achieved about 85% accuracy yet required human intervention for approximately 20% of orders.

This technological limitation highlighted the challenges AI still faces in handling complex, real-world interactions consistently and accurately.

McDonald's Stops Using AI for Drive-Thru Orders After Mixed Results
McDonald’s Stops Using AI for Drive-Thru Orders After Mixed Results

Customer experiences with the AI system were mixed, with several instances of order errors gaining attention on social media platforms like TikTok. These errors, such as adding incorrect items to orders, led to customer frustration and illustrated the technology’s shortcomings.

Notable examples included misinterpretations of simple orders, which underscored the need for more robust AI development before it could fully replace human workers in these roles.

Even though McDonald’s has discontinued its current AI order-taking system, the company remains dedicated to pursuing technological innovations to enhance its operations. They are confident that voice-ordering solutions could still play a significant role in their future, leveraging the valuable insights gained from their collaboration with IBM.

McDonald’s intends to keep assessing scalable technological solutions, aiming to make a well-informed decision on a future voice ordering system by the end of the year.

IBM also remains optimistic about the potential of AI in the restaurant industry. While McDonald’s reconsiders its approach to Automated Order Takers (AOT), IBM continues to engage in discussions and pilot programs with other quick-service restaurant clients interested in the technology.

The company emphasizes the proven capabilities of its AI solutions in demanding environments, signaling ongoing advancements and future applications of AI in improving customer service and operational efficiency in the food industry.

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