Skip navigation
Mcd Drive Thru.jpg Photo courtesy of McDonald's
McDonald's drive-thru

McDonald’s is ending its AI drive-thru test with IBM

The restaurant company and IBM formed their partnership in 2021. That partnership will continue, though the AI drive-thru test will end at the end of this year.

McDonald’s AI-driven Automated Order Taker (AOT) test at the drive-thru, in partnership with IBM, is coming to an end after two and a half years. A report of the test’s conclusion first surfaced from Nation’s Restaurant News’ sibling publication Restaurant Business Friday, citing an internal email sent to franchisees written by Mason Smoot, chief restaurant officer. McDonald’s confirmed the end of the test to NRN, stating, “After thoughtful review, McDonald’s has decided to end our current global partnership with IBM on AOT beyond this year.”

The test has been taking place in about 100 McDonald’s locations since IBM and McDonald’s first formed their partnership in October 2021. The goal of the test was to determine if an automated voice ordering solution could simplify operations for employees while also creating a faster, better experience for customers. Since, however, surveys have yielded underperforming metrics, including a 2022 report from BTIG showing that voice ordering accuracy was in the low 80% range. McDonald’s was aiming for a 95%-plus order accuracy rate before embarking on a broader adoption. The AI system – and its inaccuracies – have also been the subject of fodder on TikTok.

That said, McDonald’s reiterated that it will continue its partnership with IBM, noting, “IBM remains a trusted partner and we will still utilize many of their products across our global system.” The company adds it has captured “many learnings” and believes there is an opportunity to explore voice ordering solutions more broadly.

“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 statement concluded.

IBM shared in a statement that its AOT technologies were developed with McDonald’s to support the emerging use of voice-activated AI in restaurant drive-thrus.

“This technology is proven to have some of the most comprehensive capabilities in the industry, fast and accurate in some of the most demanding conditions. While McDonald’s is reevaluating and refining its plans for AOT, we look forward to continuing to work with them on a variety of other projects,” the company continued.

IBM added that it is in discussions and pilots with “several” quick-service clients interested in the AOT technology.

Several brands are, indeed, testing the AI drive-thru ordering landscape with a variety of tech partners, indicating a growing curiosity about its potential. Panera began testing AI voice technology in 2022, for instance. Checkers and Rally’s, Jersey Mike’s, CKE, White Castle, and Del Taco are other examples of chains testing the technology. Last year, Wendy’s began testing Google’s drive-thru chatbot and started offering the option to franchisees.

Speaking of Google, McDonald’s forged a partnership with the tech giant at the end of 2023 to connect the latest cloud technology and apply generative AI solutions across its global system. At the time of the announcement, Brian Rice, global chief information officer, said it will be the “most sophisticated platform in the industry.” All of these technology solutions are part of McDonald’s broader “Digitizing the Arches” initiative. Currently, digital sales generate more than 40% of sales across the chain’s top six markets.

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.