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McDonald’s Pulls AI Order System After Bacon Ice Cream and Nugget Mishaps Go Viral

Last Updated June 19, 2024 1:09 PM
Eddie Mitchell
Last Updated June 19, 2024 1:09 PM
Key Takeaways
  • McDonald’s AI-powered drive-thru is ending following a 2-year trial run in partnership with IBM.
  • Fast-food companies are increasingly looking toward AI solutions for their restaurants.
  • Economists forecast millions of fast-food jobs will be replaced by AI systems.

Fast-food superstar McDonald’s has decided to recall its artificial intelligence (AI) from its drive-thru following a hilarious string of failed orders.

After testing this AI-supported ordering for two years across roughly 100 of its drive-thru’s, Mcdonald’s is returning to human employees for this point-of-service. For now.

Ice Cream with Bacon

McDonald’s has officially shuttered its two-year test of automated order-taking (AOT) at its drive-thru locations in America. Whether adding bacon or stacks of butter to a caramel ice cream, piling on heaps of chicken nuggets , or overcharging customers, the failures have been nothing short of hilarious.

As a result, McDonald’s has told franchises that the technology, created in partnership with IBM will be removed by the end of July 2024.

McDonald’s will “reevaluate and refine” its AOT plans, and are confident that voice-ordering solutions for the drive-thru will be a part of its future.

IBM’s Role

According to a statement obtained by Restaurant Business , the company isn’t done with AI. McDonald’s is now pulling back to “explore voice ordering solutions more broadly”. Notably, the company will be ending its partnership with IBM which helped create the AOT system.

Although sources told CNBC  that, among its challenges, it struggled to interpret different accents and dialects, McDonald’s stated that:

“IBM remains a trusted partner and we will continue to utilize many of their other products across our system.”

In a statement, IBM remained optimistic about the future of the technology in these work settings. Specific issues with their McDonald’s AOT tech were namely “low-to-mid 80% accuracy range” and bearing high operating costs, they concluded that AI has great potential in the food industry.

Fast Food and AI

AI is invading the fast food industry at a rapid pace. Notably, other restaurant chains such as Wendy’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Hardee’s are also testing the technology. A Wall Street Journal video that sought to challenge Hardee’s AI food ordering system revealed that they’re not quite “there” yet.

It tested the accuracy of the AI’s voice recognition capabilities under different conditions, such as having a baby crying in the car, or significant ambient noise. It succeeded in handling the basic ordering but slipped up when it came to essential details such as allergies and nutritional information.

Yum-Brands, which owns Pizza Hut, KFC, and Taco Bell, is pushing ahead  with an “AI-first mentality” for its restaurants. Reportedly, it believes that the “major journeys within a restaurant that can be AI-powered” are “endless”. However as evidenced by the McDonald’s trial, the technology may still have some way to go in the customer service area before adopting these technologies wholesale.

Some McDonald’s workers will be happy that their job is no longer threatened by an automated drive-thru AI. But, the unfortunate reality is that an updated version of that technology will likely be coming down the pipeline.

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