Sector News

McDonald’s pulls plug on AI drive-through ordering after mishaps go viral

June 22, 2024
Consumer Packaged Goods

McDonald’s is removing AI-powered ordering tools from its US drive-through restaurants after customers shared experiences of orders going wrong online.

In one viral TikTok video, a customer recorded ordering caramel ice cream, but the AI-powered system filled the cup with stacks of butter instead. Another similar video showed the AI adding over a hundred orders of chicken nuggets to an order. A different customer received an ice cream topped with bacon.

“After thoughtful review, McDonald’s has decided to end our current global partnership with IBM on AOT (Automated Order Taking) beyond this year,” reads a statement by the fast food giant.

The future of AOT
McDonald’s says it does not dismiss the potential of automated order technology, stating that it might look for a new technology partner in the future.

“We will continue to evaluate long-term, scalable solutions that will help us make an informed decision on a future voice ordering solution by the end of the year,” the company adds.

The technology, which uses voice recognition to process orders, was developed by International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) in 2019. The termination ends the two-year partnership, with the fast food giant saying it will remove the AI systems by the end of July after testing them at 100 US restaurants.

“This technology is proven to have some of the most comprehensive capabilities in the industry, fast and accurate in some of the most demanding conditions,” says IBM.

“While McDonald’s is re-evaluating and refining its plans for AOT, we look forward to continuing to work with them on a variety of other projects.”

Restaurants and tech
Several fast food chains have recently started testing AI-powered software to process orders across operations.

In 2023, Wendy’s joined Google Cloud to create the “Wendy’s FreshAI” chatbot. Similarly, White Castle has partnered with SoundHound AI to implement voice-powered AI technology at over 100 restaurants by the end of 2024.

While businesses highlight the possibilities of maximizing speed and cutting costs, such moves have also sparked fear of potentially replacing human labor and taking over customer-facing jobs in the restaurant industry.

In another recent significant development, McDonald’s lost a European trademark dispute to an Irish fast food chain over the name “Big Mac.” The court ruled that McDonald’s holds no exclusive right to use the label to refer to its chicken burgers sold in the EU.


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