The Drive-Thru Lane Gets an AI Makeover

By: James Flippin · August 15, 2023 · Reading Time: 2 minutes

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As consumer demand for quick service grows, major fast food chains like McDonald’s (MCD), Panera Bread, Hardee’s, and Popeyes (QSR) are experimenting with artificial intelligence to improve and accelerate the drive-thru experience.

AI Ordering

The most common use of AI in the drive-thru lane is during the ordering process.

Restaurants including Wendy’s (WEN) and McDonald’s are hoping to automate the ordering process entirely using robots powered by generative AI, similar to the technology powering OpenAI’s ChatGPT. These AI order takers will be able to take orders, send them to the kitchen, and even converse with customers.

Meanwhile, other restaurants are experimenting with other dining alternatives, such as curbside delivery and walk-up pickup models. Last June, Taco Bell (YUM) even opened an elevated drive-thru location in Minnesota, where four lanes pass underneath the building and kitchen, receiving food via vertical lifts. Chick-fil-a has plans to test a similar concept.

Check, please!

Fast food is as famous for its speed as for its low cost, but the integration of new technology always carries the risk of inefficiency. In fact, an entire TikTok trend has sprung up documenting the random items one McDonald’s AI-powered drive-thru adds to orders. If these glitches persist, it could be frustrating enough for drivers to avoid drive-thru lines altogether.

Additionally, some worry automation in the fast food industry could come at the cost of human jobs. As companies work out the kinks with AI ordering, there could be fewer needed to get your order going.

Then again, an AI revolution in the food industry could also create jobs, and most likely higher paying ones. In a not too distant future, you might not be able to get a job flipping burgers. But a job supervising the burger-flipping robots could be up for grabs.

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