McDonald’s Rolls Back AI-Powered Ordering Experiment

McDonald’s was planning to launch a pilot program of an ordering assistant that was going to be powered by artificial intelligence, but the fast food giant is putting a halt to the plan.

A two-year partnership that McDonald’s had with IBM to provide them with the artificial intelligence system by July 26 will now end. Restaurant Business, an industry publication, reported late last week that this means that the AI technology will have to be removed from roughly 100 stores across the country that were going to be part of the pilot program.

Through the IBM partnership, the tech company developed the “Automated Order Technology,” which allowed customers to speak to an assistant powered by AI instead of a real person when they rode up to the drive-through window to place their order.

McDonald’s has apparently told its franchisees that even though its partnership with IBM is coming to a close at the end of July, it is keeping the door open on possible developments in the future of technology for drive-through orders that might be powered by AI.

In a message that Restaurant Business acquired, Mason Smoot, an executive for McDonald’s, wrote:

“While there have been successes to date, we feel there is an opportunity to explore voice ordering solutions more broadly. IBM has given us confidence that a voice ordering solution for drive-thru will be part of our restaurant’s future, and we want to sincerely thank IBM and the restaurant teams that have been part of this crucial test.”

McDonald’s may be the leading fast food company in the world, but it isn’t the only one that has experimented with AI ordering. Both Wendy’s and White Castle are among companies that have said they will roll out some sort of automated ordering in the future.

Other companies such as Dunkin, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, Checkers and Rally’s have all started development on AI-powered technology, Restaurant Business reported.

AI-powered ordering is apparently an effort by fast food companies to reduce staffing at their restaurants as a way to cut back on costs. These companies also believe that the AI-powered technology, if done correctly, could provide customers with accurate and quick service.

What’s not certain is whether this type of technology could perform at a high enough level to entirely replace staff at drive-throughs. For instance, some customers have complained that AI technology has problems understanding some particular accents, and also has trouble if there’s a lot of background noise.

While McDonald’s didn’t give a specific reason why its partnership with IBM is ending, it’s fairly obvious that the company didn’t believe that the technology was up to par with its other standards.

A company like that would surely welcome technology that cuts down on staff. So, if they are ending a partnership that could eventually lead to big cost-savings, it’s probably because the technology wasn’t fully ready to be rolled out — even for a pilot program.