It can’t be denied that AI is slowly but surely taking over several industries. Many companies are attempting to save money by automating jobs that can be. This includes fast food restaurant giant McDonald’s, who may, over time, be replacing drive-thru workers with artificial intelligence (AI).
McDonald’s Replacing Drive-Thru Workers With AI
According to CNBC, McDonald’s is currently testing out replacing drive-thru workers with AI in 10 locations across Chicago. The move comes after a pandemic that saw a huge increase in drive-thru sales. The company is trying to make the drive-thru process faster, more efficient, and have fewer errors, as well as cost them less money. This is where AI comes in.
“Humans sometimes forget to greet people, they forget, they make mistakes, they don’t hear as well,” Lucy Brady, McDonald’s chief digital customer engagement officer, explained to CNN Business. “A machine can actually have a consistent greeting and remain calm under pressure.”
Not only that but with AI Mcdonald’s can actually help customers out by offering order suggestions or letting customers know what the most popular items are that day. The entire aim is to improve the customer experience.
“We’re really looking systematically at that customer experience and thinking, ‘Where can technology make this better and easier and faster?'” said Lucy.Source: CNN Business
The 10-unit pilot is about 85% accurate and can take about 80% of orders, CEO Chris Kempczinski said in Nation’s Restaurant News. This means that 4 out of every 5 orders can be conducted by the AI without human help. However he stated that,
McDonald’s Corp. is testing automated voice order-taking at about 10 drive-thrus in the Chicago area, company CEO Chris Kempczinski told an investor conference Wednesday. “There is a big leap between going from 10 restaurants in Chicago to 14,000 restaurants across the U.S. with an infinite number of promo permutations, menu permutations, dialect permutations, weather — I mean, on and on and on and on.” In other words, it has a long way to go.
Not The Only Restaurant
McDonald’s is not the first or only restaurant to begin experimenting with AI in their drive-thru. White Castle has begun testing out a system at one of their Indiana locations. Fair Oaks Burger in California uses a facial recognition system that allows customers to pay without using cash or a card.
McDonald’s is certainly the largest chain, however, to start using this – and it hasn’t come without problems and of course, controversy. First of all, there are challenges that an AI system faces that humans do not. According to CNN Business, these include:
- Outside noises (wind, people, etc)
- The way customers order
“Where we think you’ll order a cheeseburger or cheese slider, what if they say, ‘Gimme some Castles with cheese on them?'” explained White Castle’s Jamie Richardson.
The solution is that the system needs to be adjusted as you go, because it is still learning how to do its job. (2)
Employees Losing Jobs
Unsurprisingly the most controversial part in all of this is AI replacing drive-thru workers. Naturally, jobs are usually done by low- and moderately-skilled workers who don’t have college degrees are the first jobs to get the chop. Richardson says, however, that they have seen that technology doesn’t take away jobs.
“What we’ve seen over the years is when we bring technology in it doesn’t replace jobs; it really helps you raise the bar on your hospitality and customer focus,” he said. “Our expectation is jobs would remain at the same level, but it would change some of the work and make it easier to some degree.”Source: CNN Business
McDonald’s hasn’t yet stated how they intend to ensure that this change will benefit both customers and employees. The switch to AI drive-thrus won’t happen overnight, however. The CEO says that the national roll-out plan is set to take place over a span of five years, should the experiments go well in Chicago.
- ” McDonald’s is testing automated drive-thru ordering at 10 Chicago restaurants” CNBC. Amelia Lucas June 2, 2021.
- “McDonald’s uses AI for ordering at drive-throughs.” BBC. September 11, 2019.
- “McDonald’s and other chains are giving their drive-thrus the Jetsons treatment.” CNN. Rachel Metz. February 26, 2021.
- “McDonald’s tests automated drive-thru order-taking in Chicago area” Ron Ruggless . Nation’s Restaurant News. June 03, 2021.