McDonald’s Taps Apprente Tech To Pilot Automated Drive-Thru Orders

McDonald’s, Automated Drive-Thru Orders, Apprente, Technology

McDonald’s is tapping artificial intelligence (AI) technology from Apprente — its 2019 acquisition — to launch a test pilot of automated drive-thru ordering at 10 Chicago fast food locations, CNBC reported on Wednesday (June 2).

McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski indicated that the technology is roughly 85 percent accurate and can handle 80 percent of orders using AI — no humans needed.

At Chicago locations using the new tech, just a fifth of orders have to be taken by a human worker, Kempczinski said, speaking at the Alliance Bernstein’s Strategic Decisions Conference, which was held virtually this year.

Among the nation’s biggest fast-food chains, McDonald’s is one of many quick-serve restaurants (QSRs) exploring how technology could work to improve customers’ experience while also reducing overhead for labor. Former McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook started spending on acquisitions in 2019 and grabbed the AI software platform Apprente, which facilitates orders via a drive-thru.

Kempczinski said that fully implementing the AI tech could take some two years — one year at the very least, per CNBC.

“Now 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, per CNBC.

McDonald’s is looking to add more automation — kitchen fryers and grills — but that is more of a longer-range plan, possible by 2026, although Kempczinski indicated that the capabilities are available now.

“The level of investment that would be required, the cost of investment, we’re nowhere near to what the breakeven would need to be from the labor cost standpoint to make that a good business decision for franchisees to do,” Kempczinski said, per the news outlet.

Drive-thrus are now in the technology spotlight as QSRs seek growth and convenience. In a PYMNTS interview last week, Mike Grams, Taco Bell president and global chief operating officer, said that the industry is now looking to the drive-thru “as the cornerstone of the ‘restaurant of the future.’”

The June edition of PYMNTS Order To Eat Tracker takes a deep dive into how the pandemic positively affected the drive-thru processes of QSRs as in-dining sales declined. McDonald’s said its pandemic success centered on its already-in-place drive-thru ordering.