From thousands of planned restaurant openings to a major egg quality upgrade, plenty of sweeping changes are underway at McDonald’s in 2024. However, guests will soon have to make their peace with another major shift at the Golden Arches that will impact the drive-thru ordering experience.

McDonald’s is officially pulling the plug on the artificial intelligence drive-thru test it has been conducting in partnership with IBM, Restaurant Business Magazine reported, citing an email to franchisees it had obtained. The AI feature uses a voice bot in lieu of a living, breathing employee to take customers’ orders at drive-thrus. It’s currently in use at more than 100 McDonald’s locations—and the company plans to shut off the technology at all of them late next month.

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McDonald’s first began rolling out the AI technology back in 2021, with CEO Chris Kempczinski saying at the time that it was about 85% accurate and could take 80% of orders. But for at least some customers, the voice bots seem to have made the McDonald’s ordering process more rather than less tedious.

McDonald's drive-thru
Moab Republic / Shutterstock

Several videos showing head-scratching yet hilarious customer encounters with the ordering feature have gone viral on TikTok over the past few years. In a Nov. 2022 post, for example, an AI voice bot inexplicably added ketchup packets and butter to TikToker Madilynn Cameron’s order after she only asked for water and a cup of vanilla ice cream. In a separate video from Jan. 2023 video from fellow TikToker @typical_redhead_, a glitchy AI drive-thru was seen adding hundreds of dollars worth of Chicken McNugget meals to another order.

Though McDonald’s is no longer moving forward with its IBM AI test, this still may not be the last time customers see an AI ordering feature at the Golden Arches.

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“While there have been successes to date, we feel there is an opportunity to explore voice ordering solutions more broadly,” Mason Smoot, chief restaurant officer for McDonald’s USA, said in the email to franchisees obtained by Restaurant Business Magazine. “After a thoughtful review, McDonald’s has decided to end our current partnership with IBM on AOT and the technology will be shut off in all restaurants currently testing it no later than July 26, 2024.”

Smoot added that they’re planning to make “an informed decision on a future voice ordering solution by the end of the year,” according to the publication.

When contacted for further comment on the move, McDonald’s shared the following statement with Eat This, Not That!:

“In 2021, McDonald’s launched an exciting global partnership with IBM to explore and test Automated Order Taker (AOT) using AI technology at restaurant drive-thrus to help improve growing demands on our restaurant teams. The goal of the test was to determine if an automated voice ordering solution could simplify operations for crew and create a faster, improved experience for our fans.”

It continued: “Through our partnership with IBM, we have captured many learnings and feel there is an opportunity to explore voice ordering solutions more broadly. After thoughtful review, McDonald’s has decided to end our current global partnership with IBM on AOT beyond this year. IBM remains a trusted partner and we will still utilize many of their products across our global system.”

McDonald’s added 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.”

“We see tremendous opportunity in advancing our restaurant technology and will continue to evaluate long-term, scalable solutions that will help us make an informed decision on a future voice ordering solution by the end of the year.”

Zoe Strozewski

Zoe Strozewski is a News Writer for Eat This, Not That! A Chicago native who now lives in New Jersey, she graduated from Kean University in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Read more about Zoe
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