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‘Disaster’: McDonald’s AI drive-thru experiment with IBM is over. Why did it fail and what does that mean for the future of AI?

‘The moment you remove humans from McDonald’s I’ll never eat there again.’

 

Alexandra Samuels

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If your local McDonald’s has been getting your order consistently wrong with an AI chatbot at the drive-thru, here’s a bit of good news: The company is ending the program—for now.

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McDonald’s recently told franchisees that it’s winding down its AI drive-thru ordering partnership with IBM “no later than July 26,” according to Restaurant Business. That said, McDonald’s did not dismiss the prospect of AI drive-thru ordering in the future. It’s possible, then, that the fast food chain is on the hunt for a new partner for its automated ordering efforts.

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As a McDonald’s spokesperson tells the Daily Dot: “In 2021, McDonald’s launched an exciting global partnership with IBM to explore and test Automated Order Taker (AOT) using AI technology at restaurant drive-thrus to help improve growing demands on our restaurant teams. The goal of the test was to determine if an automated voice ordering solution could simplify operations for crew and create a faster, improved experience for our fans.

Through our partnership with IBM, we have captured many learnings and feel there is an opportunity to explore voice ordering solutions more broadly. After thoughtful review, McDonald’s has decided to end our current global partnership with IBM on AOT beyond this year. IBM remains a trusted partner and we will still utilize many of their products across our global System.

As we move forward, our work with IBM has given us the confidence that a voice ordering solution for drive-thru will be part of our restaurants’ future. We see tremendous opportunity in advancing our restaurant technology and will continue to evaluate long-term, scalable solutions that will help us make an informed decision on a future voice ordering solution by the end of the year.

We sincerely thank IBM and our restaurant teams that have been part of this crucial test for our system.”

So what happened with McDonald’s AI chatbot?

The tech was somewhat controversial. In McDonald’s case, automated order-taking with IBM received scores of complaints from customers who said that the chatbot misunderstood their order

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The repeated snafus led various content creators to lend their two-cents on the matter. Mike Haracz (@chefmikeharacz), a former McDonald’s corporate chef, offers his expert opinions on the fast food chain to his 311,700 followers. But in a recent video, he called McDonald’s AI experiment a “disaster.”

“If you did not know,” Haracz said, “McDonald’s has been testing IBM’s chatbot feature in their drive-thru for automatic order taking.” Haracz said that the measure was “obviously” put in place to reduce the amount of actual human employees in the restaurant as a cost-savings measure. He added, too, that this chatbot AI feature was in place in roughly 100 McDonald’s restaurants. 

“I cannot imagine how much money, time, and effort was put into [this],” Haracz said this week on TikTok. He also guessed that the money spent testing this system was directly correlated to a recent increase in menu prices.

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@chefmikeharacz Former #McDonalds corporate chef talks about their #AI disaster. #artificialintelligence #McDonaldsTikTok #mcdonaldssecrets #mcdonaldsccsing #mcdonaldschallenge #mcdonaldshacks #mcdonaldsdrivethru #fastfood #fastfoodstories #fastfoodlife #FYP ♬ original sound – Chef Mike Haracz

Who’s to blame for McDonald’s AI failure?

Another content creator, Levi (@take5_ai), who provides takes on AI, attempted to guess what this all meant for AI in restaurants. He also accused various parties of playing a role in the system’s demise.

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Part of the blame, Levi said, “has to go onto IBM.” There are a lot of other partnerships, he said, that seem to be performing well in the fast food industry. But he also blamed AI in general for these ordering issues.

“If you’re considering using AI in a public-facing style, you’re going to need to have humans to check and recheck its work,” Levi said. He gave an example: when someone orders nine sweet teas, some system—human or otherwise—needs a flag that might be “something to check.”

What’s next for McDonald’s and AI remains shaky.

How are customers taking the news? 

In the comment section of both Haracz and Levi’s respective videos, some customers said that the use of AI turned them off from McDonald’s.

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“The moment you remove humans from McDonald’s I’ll never eat there again,” one person wrote. “I rarely eat there now bc the quality is crap.”

“We gotta have ppl in restaurants,” another added. “No one wants to complain to a robot.”

“AI is junk,” a third commenter said. 

Others, meanwhile, were more resigned to the fact that AI might be the future of fast food ordering. 

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“It’s just a matter of time,” one viewer said. “Might be a few more years, but eventually it will go AI.”

The Daily Dot has reached out to both Haracz and Levi via TikTok comment.

 
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