McDonald’s customers react to automated drive-thru tests


McDonald’s announced a new partnership with IBM last week to automate the drive-thru process using artificial intelligence, and customers are feeling anxious. It began testing automated order taking at 10 Chicago locations this summer. While it wasn’t popular with users, the company is moving on to the next phase. Critics online have a whole range of predictions for what this might mean.

McDonald’s has developed all of its automated order-taking technology (AOT) so far through its McD Tech Labs subsidiary, which was formerly known as Apprente. McDonald’s, IBM and others joined forces Wednesday. Announcement McD tech Labs had been acquired by IBM for the purpose to improve McDonald’s AOT, both on the employee-facing and customer-facing side. The merger will be completed in December, and there’s no word yet on when AOT will go into wider use, but the press release indicates that the next phase of testing will take place in more areas around the U.S.

Commenters weren’t thrilled about this development for a number of reasons. One reason commenters were not excited about this development was the ongoing labor protests in the U.S. Many believed that McDonald’s was trying to pivot quickly to avoid paying higher wages to its workers. Many were also concerned about how current fast-food workers would treated when they were replaced. Some even raised concerns about Universal Basic Income (UBI).

Others had logistical and security concerns as well as ethical concerns. There were also a lot of references to pop culture and jokes. Here’s an overview of the reactions to McDonald’s AI project.


Commenters advised fast food workers, labor organizations and politicians to start preparing for automation rather than reacting to its emergence. They worried that it was too late to make policies or raise awareness of this complicated issue.



Some users, on the other hand, welcomed the idea for an AI order-taking system because they could avoid human contact. Some users compared it with the increase in self-checkout lanes in stores.


Some examples

AI restauranteurs have been shown in enough media that users can pull out some deep-cut references. Many assumed that robot servers would soon have all the quirks and characteristics of human servers.


Scare Tactics

Some people suggested that McDonald’s advertised the AI program to make it seem like they were trying to intimidate former employees into accepting lower wages instead of fighting for a larger paycheck.



Some commenters wondered whether the savings McDonald’s makes by using AI employees would be offset by the drop in customers. The people they are laying off won’t be able to afford burgers.


AI Rights

Many people wondered if an AI could work at McDonald’s if it was sufficiently developed. Ex-employees invited the AI to share their stories.