Brief - The Hustle

Is AI the future of drive-thrus?

Written by Juliet Bennett Rylah | Nov 2, 2021 7:49:48 AM

In the near future, you could order your Big Mac from a bot. Or maybe you already have…

Restaurants have been experimenting more and more with AI and robots, especially as companies struggle to find entry-level workers.

McDonald’s has been working on tech-savvy drive-thrus for a while

In 2019, it acquired the startup Apprente, which specializes in voice ordering, and created McD Tech Labs. In June, it tested the tech in 10 Chicago drive-thrus, allowing customers to tell a computer their order. The bots were ~85% accurate.

At that time, CEO Chris Kempczinski told CNBC that McDonald’s acquisition strategy was to bring companies in house for a short period, then find a partner to scale it.

And that’s exactly what McDonald’s did

Last week, McDonald’s announced the sale of its Automated Order Taking (AOT) tech to IBM, which will also acquire McD Tech Labs.

IBM already has Watson, its own suite of AI tools (not to be confused with its supercomputer of the same name that, in 2011, beat Ken Jennings at “Jeopardy”).

McDonalds has a long way to go before it can roll out AI to all 14k of its US restaurants. But as it stands, 20% of orders in McD’s 6 top markets are already made digitally through apps, kiosks, or for delivery, accounting for $13B in sales, per Restaurant Dive.

Check this out: Amid the pandemic, a Moscow KFC was almost entirely run by bots, reducing employee-customer contact. In 2017, for National Fried Chicken Day, KFC built a robot Colonel Sanders.