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Is AI The Future of Drive-Thrus? Businesses Agree But Consumers Left Fuming

Some consumers have already taken to social media to vent their anger after placing food orders with AI.
Pexels | RDNE Stock project
Pexels | RDNE Stock project

As more and more businesses continue to invest in artificial intelligence technology, it is no surprise to see restaurants jump on to the AI bandwagon. Several restaurants from White Castles to Wendy's have been reportedly investing in AI for drive-thrus.

They are trying AI to reduce employee workload and lessen their responsibilities while also tackling the problem of jammed drive-thrus. However, neither customers nor employees are thrilled with the change.

Some frustrated customers are sharing their experiences on social media platforms, per TODAY. TikTok user Ren Adams took to the video-sharing platform and posted a video calling out McDonald's new artificial intelligence technology, which the company has deployed at a number of restaurants.

Adams talked about the day he tried to order his coffee along with breakfast which included hash browns, sweet tea, and a Coke. At the same time, another passenger pulled up in the next lane to place their order. Adam's AI picked up the other customer's order too.

"Mind you, at this McDonald’s, it’s all robot," he says, explaining that the AI also added the other customer’s Diet Coke to Adam's order. "We’re talking to a robot, there’s no person on the speaker, it’s just a robot taking your order."

After attempting to remove the Diet Coke from his order the AI malfunctioned and added eight additional sweet teas to the second customer's order in addition to deleting the Diet Coke. Adam says, " Saw this s***, and I pulled out of the drive-thru and drove away. I said f*** that."

Pexels | Darya Sannikova
Pexels | Darya Sannikova

Many companies are currently testing AI tools like automated voice ordering. CKE Restaurants said that it will soon roll out AI ordering technologies to a broader user base after the successful test run. Soon after this, Wendy's revealed plans to expand its partnership with Google Cloud to include an AI ordering tool in their drive-thrus.

"You may think driving by and speaking into a drive-thru is an easy problem for AI, but it's actually one of the hardest," Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud, told Wall Street Journal.

Calling the implementation of speech recognition technology "really challenging," Christina McAllister, senior analyst at research agency Forrester, who studies the impact of using AI, talked about how accents can be a huge hurdle. She also highlighted the fact that it "doesn't perform particularly well in noisy areas."

She also discussed the aspect of repeating that might irritate the customers, explaining that it increased the probability of them getting frustrated and leaving or unleashing their anger.

Pexels | Monica Escalera
Pexels | Monica Escalera

One of the major advantages of using AI in the drive-thru is that it never fails to upsell. According to Presto Automation, an AI company that works with restaurants said that AI often leads customers to spend more than they originally intended.

Presto Voice "upsells in every order," said interim CEO Krishna Gupta during a May Analyst Call, adding that it results in "higher check sizes.”

Before the pandemic, drive-thrus was an act of convenience. However, today it is more relevant because of safety. Brands are investing more and more in efforts to upgrade their drive-thrus to become way more efficient. In a survey from The Food Institute, it was found that consumers aged 18 to 44 were 68% more likely to buy their food from a drive-thru if it offers a celebrity voice. This shows that creativity paired with technology will only enhance the customer experience, driving more and more customers to visit.