McDonald’s pauses AI-powered drive-thru voice orders

The company may be looking for a new partner after ending an IBM partnership.

REUTERS / Reuters

McDonald’s has ended a two-year test of AI-powered drive-thru ordering. The company was trialing IBM tech at more than 100 of its restaurants but it will remove those systems from all locations by the end of July, meaning that customers will once again be placing orders with a human instead of a computer.

As part of that decision, McDonald’s is ending its automated order taking (AOT) partnership with IBM. However, McDonald’s may be considering other potential partners to work with on future AOT efforts.

“While there have been successes to date, we feel there is an opportunity to explore voice ordering solutions more broadly,” Mason Smoot, chief restaurant officer for McDonald’s USA, said in an email to franchisees that was obtained by trade publication Restaurant Business (as noted by PC Mag). Smoot added that the company would look into other options and make “an informed decision on a future voice ordering solution by the end of the year,” noting that “IBM has given us confidence that a voice ordering solution for drive-thru will be part of our restaurant’s future.”

McDonald’s told Restaurant Business that the goal of the test was to determine whether AOT could speed up service and streamline operations. By automating drive-thru orders, companies are hoping to negate the need for a staff member to take them and either reduce the number of workers needed to operate a restaurant or redeploy resources to other areas of the business.

IBM will continue to power other McDonald’s systems and it’s in talks with other fast-food chains over the use of its AOT tech. The likes of Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr., Krystal, Wendy’s, Dunkin and Taco Johns are already testing or using such technology at their drive-thru locations.