Voice assistant takes orders from McDonald’s drive-thru customers
Visitors to the McDonald’s drive-thru might soon be talking to a robot instead of a person when they place their orders.
McDonald’s is piloting a voice-ordering solution at drive-thrus in 10 locations in the Chicago area, according to a CNBC report. The solution is approximately 85 percent accurate, leaving about a fifth of orders to be taken by human staff. While it may take a number of years to implement chain-wide, given the complexities of handling promotions, menu differences and recognition of regional dialects, the technology could represent the next step in fast food automation.
McDonald’s is not the only fast food chain experimenting with automated voice ordering.
White Castle has been piloting a similar solution, according to CNN, but the chain’s voice ordering bot also folds in predictive suggestions. The company plans to enable personalized ordering via license plate recognition, as well as features that take into consideration weather and day-part.
Other QSRs have taken different technological tacks to speed along the drive-thru experience. For instance, mom-and-pop restaurant Fair Oaks in California is using facial recognition to speed payment transactions.
Automation in fast food is a perennially controversial topic. Advocates see it as a way to free up workers to undertake more fulfilling tasks, while opponents see tactics that cut down on labor costs by replacing low-skilled workers with technology.
McDonald’s has already taken many steps to automate portions of its operations previous to this latest pilot. The 2016 launch of its “store of the future” was followed by the chain-wide adoption of in-store touchscreen ordering kiosks. The chain has also piloted other AI-based drive-thru technologies, such as touchscreen ordering that does not require human interaction to place the order.
Voice recognition technology is causing controversy in other areas, as well. A patent by Spotify for voice recognition technology that would allow an AI to gauge a user’s age, dialect, mood/emotions and other characteristics has been decried as potentially dangerous, according to Opus Research. Critics fear such technology could be used to manipulate users.
- McDonald’s is testing automated drive-thru ordering at 10 Chicago restaurants – CNBC
- McDonald’s and other chains are giving their drive-thrus the Jetsons treatment – CNN
- McDonald’s drive-thru AI knows what you want before you order – RetailWire
- Accusations of “Controversial Speech Recognition” Will Chill Introduction of “Voice First” Services – Opus Research
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see voice-ordering drive-thru technology, once the kinks are out, being widely used in drive-thru operations? Are there any downsides into its implementation at scale? In what creative ways might QSRs consider mobilizing drive-thru staff if the need to take orders manually is no longer present?