While McDonald's $300 million acquisition of Dynamic Yield in March was not the largest in the restaurant industry, it indicated a major shift toward technology for the fast food industry.
This year, Starbucks also partnered with tech firm Brightloom to license its technology to make it available to other companies this year while Yum Brands put $200 million toward Grubhub in 2018. Yum Brands, Wendy's, Shake Shack, Chick-fil-A, Chipotle and other large fast food chains have been making bigger moves in the tech sphere by bringing on new talent, developing technology in-house or partnering with more tech companies.
"I'm particularly excited that restaurants are getting deeper into the tech industry," Chowly co-founder and CEO Sterling Douglass told Restaurant Dive. "I feel for so long, tech companies came into this space and tried to get restaurants to change their model to fit the technology. ... I think you're going to see a lot more tech companies adjust their model to make sure that it fits the restaurant."
For McDonald's, its acquisition of Dynamic Yield is part of the company's Velocity Growth Plan, an accelerated strategy heavily influenced by digital, delivery and Experience of the Future remodels that ultimately improves the customer experience. Dynamic Yield's technology will allow McDonald's to provide digital menu boards at the drive-thru that use machine learning to offer items based on customer preference, time of day and what is popular.
"Ultimately, Dynamic Yield will facilitate a range of personalization benefits, where we can leverage knowledge of the customer, and order patterns to provide a tailored experience in restaurants, at the drive thru and on our app," McDonald's former CEO Steve Easterbrook told investors during an October earnings call.
Dynamic Yield's technology was quickly deployed across its U.S. system, with executives expecting it to be at all drive-thrus in the country by the end of the year. In August, it rolled out to 8,000 drive-thrus, and by October, it reached over 9,500.
"I would argue that I don't think that [rapid tech rollout] would've happened a couple of years ago," Douglass said. "I think it's only happened now because McDonald's made a really big investment in [Dynamic Yield's] technology."
The Dynamic Yield acquisition was just the start for McDonald’s, too, with the global fast food chain acquiring Apprente, a voice-automation startup, to bring conversation technology to the drive-thru. That acquisition led to McDonald's establishing McD Tech Labs, a global technology team in Silicon Valley, with the Apprente team. This group will hire more engineers, data scientists and other tech experts, meaning more innovations will be in the works.
The company already has an innovation center where it tests new technology and systems, piloting an automated fryer and beverage equipment in a suburban Chicago McDonald's in June. All of these ventures show that McDonald's is going all in for technology and Dynamic Yield won't likely be the last major purchase that it will make.
"Our belief is those who aren't investing in technology, at some point will be behind and will need to catch up," CFO Kevin Ozan told investors during an October earnings call. "And we'd rather be a little bit ahead of the curve and spend the right amount that we think will drive future growth."