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McDonald's tests automated drive-thru ordering at ten Chicago restaurants

McDonalds tests automated drive-thru ordering at ten Chicago restaurants

June 23, 2021: -At 10 McDonald’s locations in Chicago, workers aren’t taking down customers drive-thru orders for McNuggets and french fries. A computer is, CEO Chris Kempczinski said on Wednesday.

Kempczinski said the restaurants using voice-ordering technology are experiencing nearly 85% order accuracy. The only fifth of orders need to be taken by a human at the locations, he said, at Alliance Bernstein’s Strategic Decisions Conference.

From the last decade, restaurants have been leaning into technology to improve the customer experience and help save on labor more than before. The under former CEO Steve Easterbrook, McDonald’s went on a spending spree, snapping up restaurant tech in 2019. One of those acquisitions was Apprentice, which uses artificial intelligence software to take drive-thru orders. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Kempczinski said the technology would likely take above one or two years to implement.

“Now there’s a big leap from going to 10 restaurants in Chicago to 14,000 restaurants all over the U.S., with an infinite number of promo permutations, menu permutations, dialect permutations, weather, and on and on,” he said.

One more challenge has been training restaurant workers to stop themselves from having them help.

McDonald’s has also been looking into automating more of the kitchen, like its fryers and grills, Kempczinski said. However, that that technology won’t roll out within the coming five years, even though it’s possible now, he added.

“The level of investment that would be required, the cost of investment, we’re nowhere near to what the breakeven would need to be from the labor cost standpoint to make that a good business decision for franchisees to do,” Kempczinski said.

And because restaurant technology is moving so fast, McDonald’s won’t always be able to drive innovation itself or even keep up, Kempczinski said. The current strategy of the company is to wait until there are opportunities that specifically work for it.

“If we make acquisitions, it will be for a short period, bring it in house, jumpstart it, turbo it, and then spin it back out and find a partner that will work and scale it for us,” he added.

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