McDonald's stops testing AI ordering as tech expands at other restaurants

A three-year partnership will end this year, but McDonald's said it is not abandoning plans to use AI ordering.
McDonald's drive-thru
Posted at 11:46 AM, Jun 17, 2024

Despite many leading fast food restaurants shifting to using AI to take drive-thru orders, McDonald's announced it is ending its partnership with IBM by the end of this year.

In 2021, the companies announced a partnership to test the technology "to help improve growing demands on our restaurant teams." 

"The goal of the test was to determine if an automated voice ordering solution could simplify operations for crew and create a faster, improved experience for our fans," McDonald's said in a statement. 

But McDonald's decided to end the partnership. That does not mean McDonald's does not see a future for AI technology for drive-thru orders. 

"As we move forward, our work with IBM has given us the confidence that a voice ordering solution for drive-thru will be part of our restaurants’ future," McDonald's said. "We see tremendous opportunity in advancing our restaurant technology and 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."

Other fast food chains have announced they're utilizing AI for drive-thru orders. 

Last year, Hardee's, Carl's Jr. and Wendy's all said they would test out automated ordering. 

Automated speaker boxes are not the only way restaurants are incorporating AI.

Wendy's said earlier this year that it would test dynamic pricing using artificial intelligence. Dynamic pricing is a practice commonly used by ride-sharing apps and ticket-selling platforms where the price can change based on demand.

In a report released in March by the National Restaurant Association, 1 in 4 restaurants plan to utilize self-ordering and payment kiosks this year. Nearly half of restaurants surveyed said they plan to use tech and automation to help with labor shortages.

Whether AI displaces fast-food workers remains to be seen. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are nearly 3.1 million Americans who work in the fast food industry. The median hourly pay for fast food and counter workers in 2023 was $14.24, which was up from 2022 when it was $13.43 an hour. The median pay is about $20 below the median hourly wage for the general population.