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McDonald’s Axing AI Drive-Thru Test

Order-taking system reportedly struggled with customers’ accents and dialects




The drive-thru lanes at McDonald’s’ restaurants are often busy places. Photo: Oksana Drobotun/

McDonald’s (Chicago) is scrapping an artificial intelligence drive-thru system it was testing in partnership with IBM at more than 100 of its restaurants. The so-called Automated Order Taker will be closed no later than July 26, according to a memo sent to franchisees of the fast-food giant late last week that was obtained by CNBC.

The AI partnership began in 2021 and combined technologies from the two companies to simplify and speed up operations with voice-activated ordering.

“While there have been successes to date, we feel there is an opportunity to explore voice-ordering solutions more broadly,” said the franchisee memo from Mason Smoot, senior vice president and chief restaurant officer for McDonald’s U.S. “After thoughtful review, McDonald’s has decided to end our current partnership with IBM on AOT. … IBM remains a trusted partner and we will continue to utilize many of their other products across our system.”

Two sources familiar with the technology told CNBC said its problems included interpreting different accents and dialects, which affected order accuracy. McDonald’s declined to comment on that situation, while IBM did not immediately respond to a request to comment on the tool’s accuracy.

The decision comes as restaurants from Del Taco to Wingstop to Panera and more have been testing out various ways to use AI to streamline operations, CNBC notes. Chipotle and Yum Brands have also been active in both robotics and AI investments in recent years.

In a statement, McDonald’s told CNBC it is not ruling out potential AI drive-through plans in the future.


“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,” the company 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.”



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