'Do you want bacon with your ice cream?' McDonald’s ends AI drive-thru trial in US after order mistakes

By Restaurant

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McDonald’s ends AI drive-thru trial in US after order mistakes

Related tags McDonald’s QSR Fast food Multi-site Omnichannel AI Technology drive-thru

McDonald’s in the US is ending its AI drive-thru trial after of errors with customer orders, including bacon being added to ice cream, have gone viral.

The fast food giant has been trialing an AI ordering system, developed by IBM, at more than 100 of its locations in the US since 2021. The technology uses voice recognition to process orders but has at times struggled to get them right.

Errors with customer orders have emerged on social media with one customer receiving an ice cream topped with bacon and the technology adding £166 worth of chicken nuggets to another customer's order.

In a video posted on social media channel TikTok video called 'Fighting with McDonald's robot' a woman struggles to order vanilla ice cream and a bottle of water from the AI assistant and is instead given a number of ice creams, ketchup sachets, and two portions of butter.

McDonald’s has now instructed franchisees to remove the technology by the end of July as it has decided against extending the contract.

“While there have been successes to date, we feel there is an opportunity to explore voice ordering solutions more broadly," says the company.

“After a thoughtful review, McDonald’s has decided to end our current partnership with IBM on AOT (automated order taking) and the technology will be shut off in all restaurants currently testing it no later than 26 July, 2024.”

McDonald's has been a leader in the use of technology in the QSR sector. The group has introduced self-service kiosks across its estate in the past few years and has remodelled many of its restaurants to remove the traditional counter service option completely. It has also seen strong growth in sales using its drive-thrus in the UK.

The company says it is confident that AI technology would still be a part of its future.

AI adoption

The news of the McDonald's AI trials will no doubt be food for thought for US fried chicken brand Popeyes, which earlier this month launched its first AI powered drive-thru restaurant ​in the UK after success at trials as its Northampton restaurant.

The company is extending the trial to two further drive-thru locations in Cardiff and Rotherham this month and says its plans to expand the technology to all its current Popeyes UK drive-thru sites by July.

The technology takes customer orders and can answer questions about what ingredients are included in a given item, and answer queries such as, "what sauces are available?”. During the trial, it learned to recommend meal combinations based on a customer’s preference and explain what’s in every product and will be able to pick up and adapt to modifications or difficult questions as more orders are processed.

"We believe this technology has the power to revolutionise the drive-thru experience for the better, and we’re particularly proud to be the first quick-service restaurant in the UK to offer a Voice AI solution in this way," says David Carey, chief technology officer at Popeyes.

“We’ve worked closely with our Northampton restaurant to integrate the technology with ease, and we’re already starting to see the benefits that the drive-thru AI is having on our Popeyes team members there. The team have embraced the technology and are excited by the new freedom of not needing to stand at the order window."

Popeyes says it is also looking at other ways AI can help its business in the future with elements such as order forecasting.

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