McDonald’s Terminates Its Drive-Through Ordering AI Assistant

McDonald’s recently announced that it will be scrapping the voice-assistant which it has installed at over 100 of its drive-throughs after a two-year trial run. In the email that was sent to franchises, McDonald’s did say that they are still looking at voice ordering solutions for automated order taking (AOT), but it appears that for now the test was a disappointment. Judging by the many viral videos of customers struggling to place an order through the AOT system, it’s not hard to see why.

This AOT attempt began when in 2019 McDonald’s acquired AI company Apprente to create its McD Tech Labs, only to sell it again to IBM who then got contracted to create the technology for McDonald’s fast-food joints. When launched in 2021, it was expected that McDonald’s drive-through ordering lanes would eventually all be serviced by AOT, with an experience akin to the Alexa and Siri voice assistants that everyone knows and loves (to yell at).

With the demise of this test at McDonald’s, it would seem that the biggest change is likely to be in the wider automation of preparing fast-food instead, with robots doing the burger flipping and freedom frying rather than a human. That said, would you prefer the McD voice assistant when going through a Drive-Thru® over a human voice?

72 thoughts on “McDonald’s Terminates Its Drive-Through Ordering AI Assistant

  1. Another instance of why it’s a mistake to contract IBM to do anything, as they pay their lawyers to get out of their contract terms instead of paying their developers to do the job properly in the first place.

    1. Sounds like a clone of SAP. Not as evil as Chiquita banana, but getting close. SAP bankrupted the state of California. They paid off so many bribery charges. Still not on Chiquita evil levels, but sounds similar to IBM practices.

      1. You believe IBM got the ‘promise everything, deliver change orders’ business model from SAP?

        I bet you think (EDS/HP entropy) got ‘promise everything, deliver steaming pile of crap, run away!’ from Tata or Infosys?

        Hint both EDS and IBM were had perfected their business’ before the newer companies were born.

        I just puked in my mouth a little typing ‘perfected’, but they honestly perfected their grift.
        Like a Big (# remaining) accounting firm, 20 or so years ago. Charging millions to sign off on lies.

        The suits will just ‘repeat’ until market conditions change. By then their grandkids are too stupid, from 3 generations of ancestors marrying models.

        IIRC AA still does audits. New name.

    2. Yeah, how in the world did they screw up so bad that it’s worse than a drive-thru squawk box operator (who is in a remote call center)? With current AI capabilities that is pretty embarassing

      1. IBM and McDonalds are old organizations.

        Everybody with any rank in both places is operating at his/her level of incompetence.
        Those with authority have _deliberately_ hired even more incompetent cronies/MBAs. In order to ‘hide in the crowd’.
        Net negative workers everywhere, especially on executive floors. Like a zoo.

        Bet they cheeped out on microphones. Had lot and lots of meetings. Spent first half of project defining ‘success’. Spent second half redefining.

    1. Reminds me of Space Quest III – The Pirates of Pestulon.
      Monolith Burger was awfully similar to Burger King or McDonald’s, I think.
      The furniture perhaps was more delicious than the food, too.

      And this was from the 80s, when the quality standards had been higher, still.
      Before the franchise concept had been fully established.

      Back then, company-operated restaurants still existed, which made them directly responsible for health of their customers. (Speaking under correction)

  2. I wonder how many $ /hr they could have given every single minimium wage droid with what they flushed down the toilet on this.
    AI – making you poorer by just pissing the money away you could have been paid.

    1. Technology eliminating jobs IS a problem that needs to be addressed somehow.

      – Ensure everyone is remaining jobs is paid enough to not NEED overtime
      – Eliminate overtime except in rare emergency situations
      – Find ways to help people transition to new careers
      – Find ways to use more labor (PRODUCTIVELY), new technologies to build, new science and exploration, more time in school and so more teachers to teach… (not just more consumption of throw-away crap)
      – Finally, and only after all that… reduce the hours of the working week

      Or… pay people to just pointlessly move a rock pile from point A to point B and back again over and over.

      Because keeping a labor force in jobs that could be automated is different from the rock pile thing how????

      1. In a perfect world sure.

        An economics class would show you in the first week why none of that will work.

        Here’s a hint, what happened to inflation after all the stimulus paying people to stay at home during covid?

        1. Greedflation? You mean the thing where all the companies blamed everyone else and especially their suppliers, before reporting to investors that their profit margins had skyrocketed? Or the stimulus, that thing where out of all the money that the government printed, a little was used to write the equivalent of a tax return check so that we could convince ourselves that the reason grocery prices are bad is because stupid people bought themselves new rims?

        2. “In a perfect world sure.”

          In other countries across the globe employees have employee protection and an health insurance.
          Even China has it, to some degree.
          It’s just the home country of McDonald’s that lags behind somewhat.
          It’s like a fourth-world country in this regards.

          The root of the problem is a social one, I’m afraid.
          The majority in McDonald’s land apparently thinks that a social society equals socialism or something along these lines.

          The whole work mentality (hire and fire) is something that seems alien to me and my fellow citizens here in Europe.
          Some people here work for years or decades in same company.

          And if they loose their jobs, there’s the social system that helps citizens to get down on their feet again.

          When they’re looking for jobs, they get a minimum money by the social system, so they have time to prepare themselves for a new job.

          The can go finishing school, attending university etc. Again, here the social system provides financial support to those citizens who can’t afford it.

          Of course, it’s not “ideal” yet by any means and sometimes people take advantage of it.
          Also, the support must be fighten for not seldomly due to bureaucracy etc.
          But in principle, it’s *there*. To exactly prevent the situation like in the big country over the big pond.

          Our citizens don’t end up in cardboards on street or must die because they have no money for an operation or medical treatment.
          They do at least get live saving treatment for free, anytime. Normally, at least.

          Anyway, I’m just saying. Because the life here ist completely different sometimes.
          I think we barely understood blockbuster films in which the “hero” has to rob a bank and steal money to pay an operation to save its deer child etc.
          Such concepts are foreign to us, pretty much.

          1. Remind me again, who is paying for the retirements of Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain? Oh yeah the German public who don’t get as much vacation and have to retire later than everyone in those countries.

            Get out of here with the “its a social problem.” No matter how you slice it you have to take money out of someone’s pocket to fund someone else and that doesn’t work.

            As far as healthcare, Canada literally tracks deaths that could have been prevented if they didn’t have socialized healthcare.

            I would rather be broke than dead. If you would prefer to be dead well thats your choice.

          2. @Sword: their own workers and increasing debt is paying. Retirement age has been going up everywhere. Those other countries also work more hours per year, and have similar or less leave time.


            Germany debt laws are enforced… except when they are not.

            Sorry, but everyone is fucked up on their own ways. Stop with the holier than thou.

      2. Ah, but without overtime to whine and complain about having to pay, we might have to have people being paid to be less than 100% active! That’s not the toyota model of efficiency!1! We must treat every kind of job like it’s a factory line position that can be scheduled in advance with interchangeable unit people!

        There is at least one but probably there are many hospital networks that think it is the fault of the workers when things back up because patients need things at random, and because they’re medical they don’t have to treat workers properly. They seem to hire only enough people in the lab that if the yearly average number of tests came in at evenly spaced intervals, and no-one was out sick, then it would work. When the real world hits, they lose their minds that someone had to stay overtime or that running a stat for the ER and posting results took priority over frivolous team meetings and that maintenance or QC has to be done at some point whether you like it or not…

        But in jobs that can be at least half-decently automated, it’s still more worthwhile to have a person if they can do a better job or can make the service more pleasant. Or it can be a way to give people something to do while they’re waiting for the occasional tasks that they’re actually required for, or for the day when some system goes down and lots of people are needed. It just needs to be something that’s not unpleasant and not boring. There’s varying levels of how you can be paid for not being active, like various kinds of on-call, per diem for being sent out of town somewhere, or even just straight hourly pay for a receptionist to sit at a desk for the day no matter if anyone comes in. But for jobs that aren’t completely based on responding to people that show up, if you’ve got some minor thing you can work on so that you can fill out a consistent shift, that can be convenient. I’d of course rather if you could just leave when you were caught up on things, but generally you’re meant to be available for the random occurrences during your shift.

      3. “Technology eliminating jobs IS a problem that needs to be addressed somehow. ”

        Not necessarily. Just think of Star Trek.
        People there work not for money, but to improve society and do something useful in their life.

        The reason the concept works (in the ST world) is because humanity has grown up and eliminate poverty and homelessness.

        The replicator solves the material issues.
        Food and tools can be synthetically created.
        The basic needs are being satisfied, thus, which results in a mentally healthy society without fear.

        And the best thing is, this optimistic concept had been invented by US Americans way back in the middle of cold war.

        Sure, this seems naive and utopian in our modern era of pessimism and cynicism.
        But were those fellow citizens of you guys so wrong?
        Isn’t this something worth to aiming for?
        A society in which people can do hard work not because of money, but to do something meaningful in life?
        Something they can be proud of?
        Where did that America optimism go to, which we Europeans valued so much? 🤷‍♂️

        1. Bullshit.
          Europeans sneer at Americans as soon as we’re done saving your asses.
          Every time.

          Euros: ‘Wow, that was close. We should immediately give our new government more power. Put our gonads in government escrow.’

          Drek is _fiction_.
          Silly silly fiction made for 1960s American TV.
          Might as well base an argument on ‘Red Mars’.
          Author was on crack. Nothing else to say.

          People ‘without fear of poverty or homelessness’ invent new stupid things to lord over each other. Useless hierarchies of ‘Gucci dumb’. Ref: Richers anywhere on earth.

      4. you forgot:
        Ensuring that people still has income to pay AI to prepare and pack McOrders. If too many were laid off for robots, then there’d be less money going back to the workers and less people going to restaurants, and restaurants will end up losing money.

    2. McDonalds corporate doesn’t hire minimum wage employees. McDonalds corporate is a global corporation and large land owner and it has money and want to invest to find ways to survive the future. The locations aren’t owned by McDonalds but by franchisers. The margins for franchisers is very thin though. Depending on the location, it can be near bankruptcy at all times (also the reason why the running joke about the broken ice cream machine exists as upkeep of the machine is too expensive so they don’t repair it if they don’t think the sales of icecream would outweigh the repair costs). A few years ago this wasn’t that big of a deal, but now with the rise in costs, from raw material problems to personel costs (again, depending on the location) it’s already making more and more franchisers close up shop. Especially in the tougher locations with very high costs and an increasingly worse economic outlook (US in general, but specifically California and New York which have been in a freefall economy for a bit now, and on this side of the pond parts of Germany, France etc) are places where the franchisers can’t survive anymore, so you end up seeing tons of McD and other similar venue’s (Red Lobster, White Castle, Burger King, etc) close. If they didn’t replace cashiers with screens and other methods to limit the amount of employees required, many many more franchisers would have closed shop already. Personel costs are usually a very high percentage of the costs and if the economy is going down, tax rates are going up and costs of production is up, that means that the prices of the meals at these places will have to go up up up and it goes from a cheap meal to expensive rather quickly, making it a luxury food instead. It’s basic economics.

      Just in case, I’m not saying McDonalds is a good company or that I agree with their methods. It’s horrible food that no one should eat.

      1. No, the broken ice cream machines are because the manufacturer makes money on the maintenance… so they make it as hard and as expensive as possible, and block attempts to use cheaper and easier third-party technicians and tools.

        1. That proves that statement was correct. It’s expensive so they won’t get the machines fixed unless they think they can sell enough ice cream. Every company that does maintenance makes money on it. That’s how that works.

      2. The franchisees don’t own the locations, they lease a shop. About all they own is the kitchen equipment.

        The state GDPs of CA and NY, and the US as a whole, have been climbing steadily since the bottom of the COVID recession in summer of 2020.

        About the only fact-based section of your comment is that personnel are a major part of any business’ costs, which is not news.

        1. I hope you realize increased government spending raises GDP…

          It would be pretty embarrassing to not know that while touting GDP as an economic health metric, because gov spending has shot up.

        2. GDP is rather useless as a measurement. The GDP means nothing if the value of the currency is falling fast while the GDP is rising at a slow level. The inflation is incredibly high, taxes are getting higher and higher, money printers are on at the max setting, the government increased spending by a ton, more and more people can’t afford food anymore and the amount of Americans with jobs is falling rapidly (total jobs is rising, I know, but the amount of Americans with a job is falling rapidly). The US is broke. The US can’t even afford to pay the rent on the national debt anymore. I’m not American and have no foot in the game with your political weirdness nor do I care all that much about it, but I do know what the numbers mean that your own government sends out. Everything I said is factual even if you don’t like it. Leave your bubble my friend.

          1. The Euro or Pound are better? Nobody has actually put money aside for their post WWII baby boom’s retirement. Nitrous kits for printing presses in big demand, worldwide.

            It is a question of which currency pops first, the others will gain some time from capital flight, maybe.

            My bet is on the English Pound.
            Worst debt to GDP ratio, worst rate of growth, most broken government, complete lack of industry. Plus ‘upper class twits’ and ‘Shameless the documentary’.

            It’s all very non-linear though.

            Could be $US, Euro, Pound or other.
            Small fry could be collateral damage or benefit. Devil in details.

            Invest in 223 coin. Not a large % of net worth, but not 0.

  3. McDs has been outsourcing drivethru order taking to remote call centers for almost 20 years. So them switching to AI is no surprise. Give it some time, theyll have another go at it before long.

      1. Some stores use them exclusively, others use a mix of onsite and call center during peak hours. Some dont use the call center systems at all but its been an option since 2005.

      1. I used to eat taco bell beef tacos once in a while.
        Because it was a treat in childhood.

        Then one day:
        I fed my dog Ol’Roy beef canned dogfood (WalMart house brand).
        Then went to Taco Bell.
        The smell hit me as I walked in.
        They were using Ol’Roy beef canned dogfood.

        Never been back. Couldn’t if I wanted to.

  4. I hate to say it, but automating the kitchens at fast food places might actually improve the quality of service. It seems like these days if you ask for anything even slightly custom (No Tomatoes for example) you’re bound to get anything but what you ordered. No Tomatoes? Well, we gave you extra tomatoes, no cheese. And we burned the bun because we hate that you tried to make us think. You added pickles to your chicken sandwich? Well you get a slab of undercooked chicken, and no bun.

    Unfortunately, this will result in them firing everyone, and there will be zero accountability for when things break down and you get motor oil instead of ketchup on your burger.

    1. Truthfully, I once ordered a burger from a different fast food place via the drive thru; it seemed to take an especially long time for a drive thru order. After I received it and drove off and proceeded to take a bite, the burger, though surfacely grilled, was frozen. I’ve never been back to that chain. I think the entire philosophy of that company changed after they got rid of the founder. Poor Carl. Junior employees never have the gusto of the founder.

    2. In CA they raised the minimum wage for FF workers to $20.

      Right now, it’s first reaction. Lots of closing restaurants. Anyplace marginal, they just said: ‘F-it and the horse Newsom rode in on’.

      But they will figure out how to run a burger joint while paying $20/hour.

      It will involve replacing all the current workers with a crew half the size.
      There will be a new ‘shitjob’ catagory. Where kids start and losers stay forever.

      Try to tell an American teacher to stop wishing for Norwegian teacher pay, because they wouldn’t have the job in Norway.
      You will soon understand why it’s not a great idea to put the dumbest people in charge of teaching kids.
      Ed Schools have the _lowest_ entering student test scores, but average GPA hovers around 4.0 (in a 4.0 max system).

    1. I don’t know about fruit smoothies (they aren’t on the menu here), but they switches to vegetable oil to fry in and both here in the EU and in NYC. The fries are certified vegetarian. They used to use beef tallow until 1990 but switched due to health concerns of using beef tallow. They do use a (vegetarian) beef flavoring in the oil, but it’s made from plants (made from hydrolized wheat and milk). Beef tallow might be used outside the EU and USA.

    2. damn that sucks for all the health conscious vegans just looking to num on some fries and smoothies. I wonder if they know mcDs is slipping them the meat on the DL.
      SRSLY, no ones cares. McDs has never been healthy eats.

      1. Here’s an idea if you want to reduce costs at the drive thru… Put a giant tablet like the self serve kiosk where the order speaker usually is. Some people would prefer this. Me included. Because they can sod off for installing an app on my phone.

  5. I went to a McD a month ago. First time in ages. There were no people taking orders, only self serve kiosks. That was bad enough, but when I noticed that there were no prices listed, I walked out. I’m not ordering, only to find out the price later. That put the final nail in the McD coffin for me. Never again.

    1. Our McDs still have a ‘small’ counter with a ‘live’ person taking your order and a couple kiosks. With prices up on the board. Plus tables to eat at. As it should be. Amazes me how many people (young) will go to the kiosks instead of interacting with a ‘real’ person at the counter. Or be dinking with their phone to put in an order while standing there…. Strange world we live in. I don’t get the anti-social attitudes prevalent today.

      1. Oh, and then no eat on the premises. Most are take-outs. When we go to a restaurant, we normally want to sit and eat, and enjoy getting out, see people we know, say hello, etc. We are in a twilight zone it appears.

      2. You might not care to hear this, but ordering on the phone is very reasonable for a young person, and not at all a black mark on their character. For one thing, that’s where coupons are, now, and how rewards programs are done instead of punch cards. Nothing wrong with a young person being frugal, as high as prices have gotten. And as for what works better, well, rather than hope the person behind the counter is a highly motivated expert at their low-paid job, if you operate the computer yourself you can just choose options from a list in your own time without holding anyone up.
        Or you can order quickly and in advance rather than wait in line while someone with too much time and money on their hands holds everyone up so they can complain, usually about how inconsiderate young folks are. :D If you’d like people to act the way they used to, I say give them the world we used to have – which is of course impossible. I tend to think the way people behave nowadays isn’t about their age or generation, it’s just the times.

        1. Of course, I like to encourage businesses to pay humans rather than buy machines – but my pockets aren’t deep enough to do that all the time, and anyway the entry level job I always wanted as a kid was at the grocery store, not fast food. Though what I had was not as good as either – and I hadn’t heard of osha back then.

  6. I have a North Indian friend who speaks beautifully: clear enunciation, she pronounces vowels as they’re supposed to be, she has a lovely emphatic lilt as she speaks, completely unlike midwestern american english, which is a big string of consonant, schwa, consonant, schwa, the cold leftover rice of English speech.
    Whenever she has to talk to customer service and gets stuck with an automated system that insists on speech rather than her getting to enter numbers to negotiate the infinitely deep menuing system, she tries gamely yet again for a couple of minutes, and than hands her phone to me, and I blabber out my boring stupid yankee accent and sail through the dumb automated system, where a human would immediately understand what she was saying and get her what she needs.
    AI is so stupid. It’s like mediocrity as a virtue. And because it’s being pushed by billionaires in the hopes that some day it’ll be cheap, once it’s plagiarized the entirety of human-created content, it’s showing up everywhere. I’m always cheered up to hear that yet again it’s publicly failed in a way that didn’t hurt anyone.

  7. >Smoot said the company will continue to evaluate its plans to make “an informed decision on a future voice ordering solution by the end of the year.”

    Sounds like they ran a test with this system on 100 locations,
    and are going to commit to going wide with a DIFFERENT companies system now that they understand the issues and their needs better.

  8. My local Taco Johns recently started using an automated drive through system. It works very well, and got my order correct the first time – even with some customization.

    To those bemoaning that someone might be unemployed, they forget how bad most drive through humans are.
    During Covid, I used my local McDonalds drive through more than I would like to admit. My order was wrong or defective 15 times in a row! (See the memes about Fish sandwiches with the cheese on the outside of the bun – this happened four times!)
    I’d rather interact with a machine than can enunciate cogently rather than the apathetic, disengaged, and mumbling human attendant any time.

    I welcome the replacement of wetware order takers with new silicon-based systems – they are far less frustrating.

    Taco John’s system was excellent. (They had better than average humans already…) The system is better than any human at Mickey D’s and most sit-down restaurants around here!
    (Once in a while, you get a competent and polite window associate. They usually on last a week or two — Sad)


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