McDonald's makes big changes to drive-ins after mishaps went viral

McDonald's is eliminating AI chatbots at its drive-thru after glitches with the technology went viral.

The company is discontinuing the program, which it tested for two years, and will remove the controversial technology from more than 100 locations where it was used.

The fast-food giant partnered with technology company IBM in 2021 to test the program, but it will now be discontinued “no later than July 26,” Restaurant Business reported.

McDonald's told the publication that the goal of the test was to determine whether automated voice ordering could speed up service, simplify processes and create an improved customer experience.

However, fast-food fans have documented their botched drive-thru orders because the AI ​​chatbot added unwanted items or didn't understand simple requests.

McDonald's eliminates AI chatbots in drive-thru after technology glitches go viral

Despite the termination of the program, McDonald's has not abandoned the idea of ​​using AI for ordering in the future and has hinted that the company may find a new technology partner.

“While there have been successes to date, we believe there is an opportunity to explore voice ordering solutions on a broader scale,” said Mason Smoot, chief restaurant officer of McDonald's USA, in the email to franchisees, which Restaurant Business was able to view.

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

McDonald's has been cautious about using AI in its drive-ins, even though other companies have already implemented this technology.

Checkers and Rally's, Hardee's, Carl's Jr., Krystal, Wendy's, Dunkin and Taco Johns are currently testing the technology or have already implemented it in their drive-thru stores, the outlet reported.

However, there were doubts about the accuracy of the speech recognition technology.

McDonald's CEO Chris Kempczinski told CNBC in 2021 that the technology is accurate about 85 percent of the time, but employees still have to step in and help with about one in five orders.

But videos of customers struggling to place their order correctly have gone viral on TikTok.

A video titled “Fighting the McDonald's Robot” showed a woman trying to order a bottle of water and a cup of vanilla ice cream.

Instead, four packets of butter and four packets of ketchup were mistakenly included with her order.

Another photo showed two people laughing hysterically as the AI ​​chatbot added over 2,000 McNuggets, totaling over $200, to their order.

In the fast food industry, automation has long been viewed as a way to reduce costs and avoid workforce layoffs—whether by allowing restaurants to operate with fewer employees or by redistributing staff to other tasks.

Apps, mobile ordering and automated in-store kiosks have become commonplace in many fast-food restaurants, including McDonald's.

According to National Restaurant News, McDonald's began using AI technology in its restaurants as early as 2019.

For this purpose, 700 menu boards were installed that use artificial intelligence to automate the upselling of menu items depending on the time of day, trendy dishes and the weather.

Due to rising food and labor costs, restaurants across the country are being forced to close.

The introduction of a $20-an-hour minimum wage in California earlier this year has also increased pressure on the state's fast-food restaurants.

For this reason, many companies are using technology as a way to reduce costs.

When the law was introduced in April, a Burger King franchisee with 140 restaurants on the West Coast said it planned to deploy digital kiosks in all of its stores within two months.

He planned to implement the wage increase over the next five to ten years.