These Drive-Thru Bots Are Replacing Fast-Food Workers

Posted by Matin Varshochi in EconomyNovember 5, 2021(Last Updated July 25, 2022)3 min read
Key Takeaways
  • Over the past couple of years, McDonald’s has been heavily investing in tech startups to help them put AI in their locations.
  • McDonald’s wishes to use AI in its locations to minimize error, improve efficiency, and increase productivity.
  • Although the implementation of AI will lower costs, it could negatively damage the economy in the long run.
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Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic caused many businesses, ranging from small to international franchises, to cut costs due to the lack of revenue. One of these franchises was the fast-food giant McDonald’s. One of McDonald’s most significant selling points is the speed at which they can serve their customers in their drive-thrus. As a result, they have been investing in artificial intelligence to help further improve their drive-thru customers’ experience. 


So far, McDonald’s has begun experimenting with artificial intelligence in ten stores in Chicago. However, it will take some time before it becomes implemented in its 14,000 locations across the U.S. Although this decision benefits McDonald’s as they will be cutting down their labor costs, it is replacing humans and jobs and could negatively impact the economy. 


How Does it Work?


McDonald’s has purchased tech startups within the last few years to help build an artificial intelligence employee system. The first startup, Apprente, designed the voice technology used to interact with customers, and Dynamic Yield customized the menu boards.


When a customer pulls up to the drive-thru, Apprente greets them using its voice recognition system in a friendly manner, and Dynamic Yield displays suggestions on the menu boards depending on what the customer has ordered. Once Apprente takes the orders at the drive-thru, they are passed onto the employees. The employees then fulfill each order and give them to the customer.   


Image Credit: Sorbas /


This type of AI service is similar to the self-serving kiosks found inside some McDonald’s locations. They frequently display a page showing recommended additional products based on the customer’s current order.


The Effects of More Companies Implementing Bots


The effects of more companies implementing bots to take the place of human employees can be both positive and negative. For example, now that the economy is slowly getting back to normal, there is a worker shortage, which negatively affects companies. In addition, with fewer people working at any time, it becomes harder for employees to provide quality customer service.


Therefore, fast-food chains and other companies implementing bots to replace human employees will effectively remove the high employee turnover rate that the service industry has. This allows companies to work more efficiently, causing higher revenue levels. It also lowers their expenses as they have fewer wages to pay. 


On the other hand, this implementation could be detrimental to the economy for years to come. To gain job experience, many teenagers start by getting a job in the service industry. However, with bots replacing humans in this field, it becomes increasingly difficult to enter the workforce and gain valuable work experience. With the lack of work experience, it will become more difficult for young adults to receive jobs in their respective fields.


Although the change to AI in the fast-food industry is inevitable, McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski mentioned that it would take a while to implement


Kempczinkski states, “There is a big leap between going from 10 restaurants in Chicago to 14,000 restaurants across the U.S. with an infinite number of promo permutations, menu permutations, dialect permutations, weather — I mean, on and on and on and on...” 


However, with other fast-food companies, such as White Castle, following similar footsteps, the increasing use of AI will become the norm in restaurants in the near future.


What are your thoughts on bots replacing humans? Do you think this will ultimately be beneficial or detrimental to the workforce? Let us know in the comments below. 


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