McDonald's has another plan to fix its slow drive-thrus

Illustration for article titled McDonald's has another plan to fix its slow drive-thrus
Photo: jax10289 (iStock)

It’s already awful to have to call your cell phone provider or bank over some customer service issue. It just adds insult to injury when the voice that greets you on the other end of the line isn’t a human voice but a faux-friendly computer-generated noise that doesn’t understand how badly you need to talk to a human operator. Let’s hope that the “voice-based, conversational technology” acquired today by McDonald’s is more responsive.


McDonald’s announced this morning it’s bought Apprente, a two-year-old California company that creates voice platforms that can recognize orders in various accents and languages. We’re not the only ones to note that this is an effort on McDonald’s part to bring more automated ordering to drive-thrus and stores. The company has been quietly testing voice-activated drive-thrus this summer in one location in the Chicago suburbs according to The Wall Street Journal and has recently digitized some of its drive-thrus.

Why all the tech upgrades? It’s about speed, efficiency, and reducing costs. Drive-thru times are a huge concern to fast food companies, especially to McDonald’s, which was the slowest of all the chains in last year’s rankings. If a computer-generated voice could take orders from customers, McDonald’s must be banking on its ability to speed up times and maybe even reduce mistakes with orders. If our banks’ and cable providers’ automated phone systems are any indication, though, this technology has a ways to go before it’s as responsive as actual humans.

Kate Bernot is a freelance writer and a certified beer judge. She was previously managing editor at The Takeout.


The Pope of Chili Town

What I struggle to comprehend is how, in their quest to secure the Almighty Drive-Thru Dollar, all these fast food joints have trashed their dine-in experience, and yet they can no longer get the drive-thru running smoothly either.

I usually dine in when getting fast food, and so I see the understaffing and feel the wait that folks in cars and the restaurant alike are enduring. And all the time, at least at McDonalds, incessant alarms, timers, and sounds that would make a Vegas casino proud are going off. It wouldn’t surprise me if the staff no longer really hear them, but they drive me nuts after about 10 minutes.

It’s no wonder Chick-Fil-A is still growing like wildfire - it has a decent product but more importantly each location seems to have enough staff to keep things moving both inside and out.