McDonald's Testing New Drive-Thru Feature That Could Eliminate Jobs

Your next stop through the McDonald’s drive-thru may be a little different. The beloved fast-food chain, already known for its fan-favorite French fries, Big Mac and Happy Meal, is hoping to be known for its technology, as the Golden Arches is testing automated drive-thru ordering at 10 locations in Chicago, an option that has the potential to roll out to other locations nationwide, and possibly globally, in the future.

McDonald's CEO Chris Kempczinski confirmed the automated drive-thru testing at the select restaurants while speaking at Alliance Bernstein’s Strategic Decisions conference earlier in June, according to CNBC. Kempczinski revealed that the automated process, which does away with humans taking orders, will use artificial intelligence software. The technology was obtained through the company's 2019 acquisition of Apprente, which uses artificial intelligence to understand speech. At the time of the acquisition, McDonald's hinted that the technology would soon be put to use in its drive-thrus and could be used in its self-order kiosks and mobile app.

Currently testing the technology in Chicago, McDonald's hopes to roll it out to other locations, though doing so will take some time. At the conference, Kempczinski said the technology will likely take more than one or two years to implement, stating, "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."

In addition to an automated drive-thru experience, the fast-food chain is also looking to bring more technology into its kitchens. Kempczinski revealed that the company is currently looking into automating more of the kitchen, such as its fryers and grills. This technology, however, likely will not be implemented within the next five years, with Kempczinski saying, "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 did not, however, reveal how this technology could impact employees. He did say that there were some challenges in training restaurant workers to stop themselves from jumping in to help. The new automated drive-thru technology is said to have approximately 85% order accuracy and can take about 80% of orders, meaning only about a fifth of orders require a human to take them.