Globally, the fast-food industry generates revenue of more than US$570 billion, an amount higher than the economic value of many countries. With no signs of slowing down, fast food is an unbeatable global leader amongst industry, and they are now looking to automation to make their food even faster.
McDonald’s, the largest fast-food chain in the world, is aiming to automate almost every aspect of their operations so they can serve customers as quickly as possible. The starting point is replacing the most repetitive tasks within the restaurant, such as deep-frying operations and meal packaging.
Initial steps have already been implemented, with a majority of McDonalds’ now featuring automated kiosks for food ordering. The next move forward will be focusing on the drive-through experience and how it can be made more efficient. McDonald’s, according to Bloomberg, make 70% of their revenue from customers who utilize the drive-thru. And therefore, making the drive-thru even quicker could push their income up further.
To achieve this, McDonald's has recently signed a deal with a tech company, Apprente. Apprente has, for the last three years, worked at refining technology for the sole purpose of making the action of order taking at restaurants much faster.
McDonald’s has effectively purchased the company and is going to be opening a new branch. Steve Easterbrook, President and Chief Executive Officer of McDonald’s Corporation, said, “Building our technology infrastructure and digital capabilities are fundamental to our Velocity Growth Plan and enable us to meet rising expectations from our customers while making it simpler and even more enjoyable for crew members to serve guests.
“Apprentaee's talented team and the technology they have developed will form McD Tech Labs, a new group integrated into our Global Technology team that will take our culture of innovation one step further.”
Apprente has designed voice-activated technology that is set to replace the drive-thru talking box. To ease any delays that may be caused by artificial intelligence, McDonald’s also recently purchased a company named Dynamic Yield.
Dynamic Yield creates personalization technologies that aim to improve the customer experience at the drive-thru and the automated order kiosks. These artificially intelligent machines will suggest certain ordering preferences for each customer. McDonald’s acquired Dynamic Yield for the US $300 million. In the example of a clothing store, Dynamic Yield shows how they personalize a customer’s experience:
Nonetheless, Apprente is already testing out its technology in select McDonalds’ projects in the United States. They say that the AI-powered tech can hold a perfect two-way conversation with humans — and can even understand other languages than English. At one McDonald’s branch, the company has reportedly implemented the AI voice solution and further equipped the kitchen with robotic fryers that prepare the food.
“From early on, it was clear to us that McDonald’s is truly committed to technology innovation and that it was on a mission to spearhead the QSR industry. In partnership with McDonald’s, we set out to deliver a customer-focused solution, all while building a great team and culture,” Apprente said on their website, announcing the McDonald’s acquisition.
McDonald’s is by no means the only franchise looking to reduce the employee headcount. Globally famous coffee conglomerate Starbucks is acquiring software startups as well. The company has just purchased a stake in Brightloom.
Brightloom’s software will help the company open its menu up to an online system that customers can purchase from instead of queuing in-store. According to CNBC, ordering online increases a customer’s spend by twenty percent when compared to the alternative in-store cash purchasing.
Automation is about maximizing profits and ensuring efficiency. Some warn that over-automating the sector might automate-out most of its staff, leaving those employees jobless. For now, though, the restaurants are not announcing any staff cutbacks. They are instead trying to show how technology can free up some of its employees from doing menial tasks inside the business. They are trying to open up new pathways for productive work inside their companies, and automation has a big part to play. Nonetheless, for company and customer, the automation push is becoming a win-win.
Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-09-10/mcdonald-s-buys-startup-to-add-automated-drive-thru-ordering.
McDonald's cutting calories in Happy Meals | 2018-02-15. https://www.foodbusinessnews.net/articles/11308-mcdonalds-cutting-calories-in-happy-meals
Afifi-Sabet, Keumars. “McDonald’s Orders up an AI Startup to Boost Drive-Thru Tech.” IT Pro, Dennis Publishing Ltd., Sept. 2019.