AI Destined For McDonald’s Drive-Throughs

The acquisition of AI voice recognition start-up Apprente by the McDonalds franchise gives the restaurant chain its own Silicon Valley technology division and promises an automated ordering system for drive-throughs, self-order interfaces and the mobile app.

Apprente

Apprente is a Silicon Valley-based start-up (founded 2017, Mountain View, California) that specialises in making customer service chatbots.  Its acquisition by McDonald’s gives the restaurant chain its own AI-powered voice-based conversational system that can handle human-level interactions, thereby helping improve the speed and accuracy of orders. 

It is thought that the Apprente system will not completely replace the traditional front of house staff, but may be used in mobile ordering or kiosks i.e. added to drive-through kiosks or sited nearby (and added to the mobile app) so that that food can be ordered by the customer’s voice, and transcripts of the order can be given to staff to ensure that the order is correct.  The transcript may also be presented or read to the customer when they pick the order up minutes later.  The technology may, therefore, provide time-saving, accuracy, and convenience benefits to both customers and staff.

Why?

There are a few key reasons why McDonald’s has gone down the tech route with its order taking.  These include:

  1. Competition from home delivery companies.
  2. 70 per cent of the company’s orders come through its drive-throughs but some reports show that McDonald’s may be relatively slow in getting its drive-through food orders out.  For example, a recent report (Oches’ 2019) shows that while the average wait in a Burger King drive-through is over 193 seconds, the waiting time in McDonald’s is considerably longer at 273 seconds.  McDonald’s ranked the tenth and slowest fast-food company in that report, but the addition of the voice-based conversational system could help speed things up.
  3. To give McDonald's a technology development centre, the McD Tech Labs in Silicon Valley so that the restaurant chain can keep adding value through new technology and stay ahead in the market.

Other Acquisitions

McDonald’s has also recently acquired customer services personalisation company and AI start-up ‘Dynamic Yield’. With this deal, worth more than £240 million, McDonald’s can use the decision-logic technology to create drive-through menus tailored to its customers based on the time of the day, trends, previous choices and other factors.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For customers, the deployment of the new voice-recognition technology in addition to the Dynamic Yield (already deployed in 8,000 US drive-throughs) should make ordering food a faster and better experience. 

For McDonald’s, the addition of the new technology and of a tech base in Silicon Valley to develop more of the same should help it to compete in a market that’s getting busier with companies that are using technology to reach customers and satisfy the same need for fast gratification.  The value-adding technology (combined with the fact that McDonald’s have a restaurant in most towns with a standardised and trusted product and brand) means that McDonald’s is taking steps to ensure that it stays ahead in a future where technology is an important competitive advantage in fast food delivery.   The new technology may also help McDonald’s address its current need to get orders ready more quickly and accurately while adding a novelty factor, talking point, and perceived advantage among customers.