McDonald’s Ends AI Drive-Thru Trial After Ordering Errors

McDonald’s is ending its AI-powered drive-thru trial after videos of order mix-ups went viral.

The fast-food giant has been testing a voice recognition system developed by IBM since 2021. However, the technology’s reliability has been questioned after customers reported errors in their orders and shared amusing mistakes on social media.

McDonald’s has instructed franchisees to remove the AI technology from the more than 100 outlets that have been using it by the end of July, according to trade publication Restaurant Business.

The fast-food chain is abandoning the trial without expanding it, the publication said, citing an email the company sent to franchisees on Thursday.

“After thoughtful review, McDonald’s has decided to end our current global partnership with IBM on AOT [Automated Order Taking] beyond this year,” the message read.

While the Chicago-based fast-food giant didn’t give a specific reason for the move, it comes after customers shared videos showing drive-thru AI picking up orders from the wrong cars, multiplying orders, and producing bizarre combinations of food, including bacon-topped ice cream and hundreds of dollars’ worth of chicken nuggets.

In one TikTok video, a woman tries to order vanilla ice cream and a bottle of water only to end up with ketchup sachets and multiple stacks of butter. Another video shows a customer claiming that the AI drive-thru assistant confused her order with someone else’s, resulting in nine portions of tea being added to her bill.

McDonald’s, which initially aimed to use the technology to reduce labor costs, indicated that the end of the trial doesn’t mean its AI experiments are over. The company said that its work with IBM “has given us the confidence that a voice ordering solution for drive-thru will be part of our restaurants’ future.”

IBM also said it plans to continue working with McDonald’s.

“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,” the company said in a statement.

Other major US fast food giants, including Chipotle, Wendy’s, Carl’s Jr, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, have also been implementing AI systems at their drive-thrus in an effort to replace human workers and reduce labor costs.