McDonald’s is testing out artificial intelligence in a Chicago suburb’s drive-thru in order to keep up with the high demand and to increase efficiency.
The plan is to replace human servers with voice-based technology, since slow service, long lines and inaccurate orders have threatened sales. The new AI’s voice has a feminine tone, sounding a lot like Siri or Alexa.
According to CNN, in 2019 the average McDonald’s drive-thru order took six minutes and 18 seconds to complete, but last year the fast-food corporation trimmed it down to five minutes and 49 seconds.
A representative from McDonald’s digital customer engagement team told CNN, “Humans sometimes forget to greet people, they forget, they make mistakes, they don’t hear as well. A machine can actually have a consistent greeting and remain calm under pressure.”
A customer posted a Tik-Tok video at one of McDonald’s AI testing locations captioning, “😳😱This is the most dystopian thing I have ever seen in the 27 years of my life. 2020 is crazy.”
Many of the changes at the drive-thru are automating tasks normally handled by humans, which could make employees concerned about the safety of their jobs being replaced by computers. Given the high unemployment rate due to the pandemic, this very well may be a threat to jobs.
With over 14,000 McDonald’s locations across the nation, most of them include a drive-thru lane, giving it more fast-food accessibility than any of its competitors.
Drive-thrus account for a larger share of fast-food sales than ever before due to indoor dining closures, so the need for increased productivity for major chains has become a top priority. So much so that Shake Shack is opening its first drive-thru this summer to make up for lost wages.
Companies like McDonald’s, Burger King, and White Castle have been investing more in technology like artificial intelligence upgrades than ever before since Covid-19. The chains have been experimenting with things like smart menu boards, Alexa-like assistants, automated ordering and payment processes, and even payments driven by facial recognition.