McDonald’s Tests Automated Drive-Thrus

The 10 Chicagoland restaurants using the voice-ordering technology are seeing 85% order accuracy.

June 07, 2021

McDonald's Drive Thru

NEW YORK—CNBC reports that McDonald’s is testing automated drive-thru ordering at 10 Chicago locations. CEO Chris Kempczinski made the announcement during Alliance Bernstein’s Strategic Decisions conference, noting that so far the technology is producing 85% order accuracy, and about a fifth of orders need to be taken by an employee at those locations.

Kempczinski said the technology will likely take more than one or two years to implement: “Now there’s a big leap from going to 10 restaurants in Chicago to 14,000 restaurants across the U.S., with an infinite number of promo permutations, menu permutations, dialect permutations, weather, and on and on and on,” he said.

McDonald’s is also trying to automate kitchen equipment like fryers and grills, but those technologies are about five years away, according to Kempczinski.

“The level of investment that would be required, the cost of investment, we’re nowhere near to what the breakeven would need to be from the labor cost standpoint to make that a good business decision for franchisees to do,” Kempczinski said.

To keep up with the pace of change, Kempczinski said that McDonald’s won’t be about to drive innovation on its own and will seek opportunities that align with the company’s strategic vision. “If we do acquisitions, it will be for a short period of time, bring it in house, jumpstart it, turbo it and then spin it back out and find a partner that will work and scale it for us,” he said.