McDonald's using automated voice ordering at 10 Chicago restaurants

McDonald’s is testing out voice-ordering technology at drive-thrus in Chicago as restaurants across the country look to automation to reduce labor costs.

McDonald’s is piloting the automated tech at around 10 drive-thrus in the Chicago area – and the computers taking orders for Big Mac’s and fries is apparently getting orders right 85% of the time and can take about 80% of customer orders, the company’s  CEO Chris Kempczinski said Wednesday, at the Alliance Bernstein Strategic Decisions conference as reported by Nation's Restaurant News.


Kempczinski said that while some of the orders still need to be taken by a real person, the tech will likely take a few years to roll out.

"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 in a conference transcript from FactSet obtained by Nation's Restaurant News explaining: "Do I think in five years from now you're going to see a voice in the drive-thru? I do, but I don't think that this is going to be something that happens in the next year or so."

McDonald's sign

A general view of a McDonald's sign outside a McDonald's drive-thru restaurant.  (Alex Burstow/Getty Images / Getty Images)

The automated ordering system has been in the works since before the pandemic when McDonald’s acquired Apprente, a tech company that builds AI-powered voice platforms promoting "faster, simpler and more accurate order taking," McDonald's said in a press release at the time. And in 2020, Mason Smoot, senior vice president and chief restaurant officer for McDonald’s, told investors it was testing out the automated technology to greet customers at drive-thrus and thank them for visiting.


McDonald's has also been evaluating potential ways to automate its restaurant equipment like fryers and grills, however, the costs could be a setback.

"The level of investment that would be required, the cost of that equipment, we're nowhere near to what the break-even would need to be from a labor-cost standpoint, to make that a good business decision for franchisees," he said.

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