- McDonald's is testing voice-activated drive-thrus and deep-frying robots that cook chicken, fish and fries in a Chicago suburb, The Wall Street Journal reports. The company expects to test this tech in additional locations as well.
- The technology, which will also include automated beverage equipment, are anticipated to improve customer wait times, which have increased in the last few years, according to a company announcement.
- These innovations also are expected to make employee jobs easier and allow for staff to work on their soft skills, such as teamwork, customer service and responsibility.
Given the ongoing labor shortage and push to increase minimum wage, automation is becoming more widely adopted across restaurant chains as a way to decrease costs and maximize efficiency of existing employees. Instead of employees doing basic tasks, like taking a person's order, technology like self-order kiosks, robotics and AI are expected to perform this work and free up time for workers to provide better customer service.
The drive-thru is particularly ripe for innovation, especially since it hasn't changed much since its inception over 50 years ago. Sonic has been testing an AI drive-thru with a partnership with MasterCard and kiosk vendor ZIVELO while Good Time Burgers & Frozen Custard in Denver expanded its test of Valyant AI's drive-thru system from breakfast into the lunch and dinner hours.
McDonald's has been hard at work trying to decrease drive-thru wait-times, especially since they are among the worst compared to its top fast food competitors. Its acquisition of tech company Dynamic Yield earlier this year paved the way for the chain to start testing automation and personalization at the drive-thru. It has also been looking into ways to simplify its menu, which included phasing out premium burgers and sandwiches and shortening its late-night menu. It also has left it up to franchisees to decide the breadth of the all-day breakfast menu to help simplify operations.
At its Innovation Center in a Chicago suburb, it experiments with a lot of different things including new technology and sandwiches. The center is essentially a warehouse set up with working kitchens where staff evaluates how a new sandwich or technology would impact efficiency or operations.
Other technologies are being tested across the industry to improve quality of service and speed of service. The fast food chain also is part of a pilot with Uber Eats to use drones that are expected to reduce delivery times. Domino's is testing AI in Australia and New Zealand to scan pizzas and make sure they meet quality standards, while Chick-fil-A is using an AI system to analyze social media posts to identify potential food safety issues. Tech companies have also developed facial recognition self-order kiosks and robot bussers.
Despite these new innovations, about one-third of restaurants said in a Technomic survey that they have fallen behind the current pace of technology. With so many large chains incorporating more technology into operations, others will need to start doing so soon to maintain a competitive advantage.