Watch CBS News

McDonald's ends AI drive-thru orders — for now

Eye on America: Coffee and restaurant tech
Eye on America: Beanless coffee and an AI-staffed restaurant 19:43

McDonald's is pulling the plug on a test that deployed artificial intelligence to take drive-thru customer orders, with the technology showing mixed results.

McDonald's told CBS MoneyWatch that it is ending its Automated Order Taker pilot, which used AI in drive-thrus to expedite orders. The fast-food giant, which launched the tech through a partnership with IBM in 2021, isn't ready for now to deploy voice ordering across its restaurants. Some customers reported that McDonald's chatbot sometimes got even simple orders wrong.

"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," a McDonald's spokesperson said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch, while adding it still sees "an opportunity to explore voice ordering solutions more broadly."

McDonald's will continue to partner with IBM in other areas. 

"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," McDonald's said.

Early stumbles

As of December, McDonald's had 27,000 drive-thru locations across the world. It deployed the AI tech at 100 U.S. locations. And as with any new technology, there were mishaps that amused, and sometimes frustrated, customers. 

For example, in early 2023 TikTok user Ren Adams shared a video documenting her experience using McDonald's AI ordering system.

"This morning I tried to go to McDonald's and get my daily dose of caffeine, and some breakfast. I was going to get a hash brown, a sweet tea and a coke," she said. "At this McDonald's, it's all robot. We're talking to a robot, there's no person on the speaker."

The AI cashier mistakenly added nine sweet teas to Adams' order, she said in her TikTok video, noting that she then abandoned the order. 

In another video, TikTok user Madilynn Cameron filmed herself at a McDonald's drive-thru ordering water and vanilla ice cream. The AI bot who took her order inexplicably added two sides of butter and four ketchup packets to the order, an image of Cameron's checkout screen shows. 

"McDonald's, I'm done," Cameron said in the video. 

AI powered burger joint opens in Pasadena 02:26

McDonald's did not comment on these or any other incidents in which customers reported problems using its AI bot. 

Other chains embracing AI

Other fast-food chains, including Chipotle, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, are testing bots in their kitchens and at cash registers to save on labor costs. Chipotle has opened at least 500 digital drive-thru "Chipotlane" restaurants since 2018. It has also tested AI in kitchens with "Chippy," a robotic kitchen assistant that can make tortilla chips

Yum Brands'-owned Taco Bell and Pizza Hut restaurants are also placing big bets on AI, its tech chief Joe Park told the Wall Street Journal in April. "A lot of that gets automated in the future, where you don't have to interface directly with the technology," he told the WSJ. "You can do it through generative AI."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.