- McDonald's agreed to acquire two-year-old Silicon Valley-based Apprente, an early stage, voice-based conversational technology company, according to a press release.
- The technology is expected to allow for faster, simpler and more accurate order taking at the drive-thru and could potentially incorporate into mobile ordering and kiosks.
- Apprente will also be a founding member of the new McDonald's global technology team called McD Tech Labs. The fast food chain also expects to grow its presence in Silicon Valley by hiring more engineers, data scientists and other advanced technology experts to make up this new group that will help meet future business needs and support deployment.
Technology is becoming an increasingly important investment for the fast food chain, especially since it can help improve drive-thru times and labor costs, two areas the company has been working to improve. McDonald's previously said it was testing voice-activated drive-thrus and must have liked the results to pursue an acquisition. It is also testing automated deep-fryers that cut down on labor in the kitchen.
With this latest acquisition, McDonald's is securing its place as a tech leader within the fast food space. It previously bought Dynamic Yield for $300 million earlier this year and has since deployed the company’s decision technology at the drive-thru at 8,000 restaurants in the U.S. and plans to reach just about all drive-thrus in the U.S. and Australia by the end of the year. It also invested $3.7 million in Plexure, a mobile app vendor, to improve its app.
"Building our technology infrastructure and digital capabilities are fundamental to our Velocity Growth Plan and enable us to meet rising expectations from our customers, while making it simpler and even more enjoyable for crew members to serve guests," McDonald's President and CEO Steve Easterbrook said in the press release.
Artificial intelligence at the drive-thru has also become a growing want among fast food chains due to the ability to save on labor costs, communicate with customers in multiple languages and speed up service times. Companies like Valyant AI and 5Thru also have been developing different levels of AI drive-thru technology. Valyant AI offers a similar product as Apprente, and has already been deployed at a Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custards in Denver, expanding is breakfast test to lunch and dinner earlier this year. Sonic is also testing a voice-automated menu through a partnership with Mastercard and kiosk vendor ZIVELO.
Other restaurants have been turning to technology as well. MOD Pizza have been using cloud technology from day one. Panera has long invested in technology, becoming one of the first restaurant chains to use self-order kiosks. Domino's launched an Innovation Garage a few weeks ago to pilot new technologies. Pei Wei, And Wendy's, TGI Fridays and Chipotle also have been building up their technological capabilities in recent years.