McDonald’s Cancels AI Pilot Program Due to Viral Order Mishaps

by Nick

McDonald’s has decided to end its trial of AI-powered voice-ordering systems at approximately 100 drive-through outlets following widespread attention to order mix-ups captured in viral videos.

The fast-food giant’s move to discontinue the AI-assisted ordering, in partnership with IBM, at select locations in the United States in 2021 comes amid a broader trend in the restaurant industry towards adopting technology to manage rising labor expenses.


The decision was reported by Restaurant Business, with McDonald’s Chief Restaurant Officer for McDonald’s USA, Mason Smoot, stating in an email that while there were successes with the AI system, they see potential in exploring voice ordering solutions on a broader scale. The technology will be phased out from all test restaurants by July 26, 2024.


McDonald’s emphasized that while this particular trial is ending, their collaboration with IBM has instilled confidence in the potential for voice ordering solutions in the future.


The company remains committed to advancing restaurant technology and will evaluate scalable solutions for a future voice ordering system by the end of the year, according to a statement provided to several US media outlets.


Although McDonald’s did not cite specific reasons for ending the partnership, social media videos, particularly on TikTok, showed instances where the AI system mistakenly processed orders from the wrong vehicles and generated unusual food combinations, such as ice cream with condiments like ketchup and butter.

Other major fast-food chains in the US, including Chipotle, Wendy’s, Carl’s Jr, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, have been adopting AI systems for improved operational efficiency and cost reduction. Joe Park, the technology chief at Yum Brands, which owns KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell, expressed confidence in an “AI-first mentality” for enhancing various aspects of their operations in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal.


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