McDonald’s Opens Its First Fully-Automated Restaurant

[Tik Tok, @Foodniemunster]

From building cars to caring for the sick in hospitals, automation has become a part of our lives, but can it make a good Big Mac? A McDonald’s in North Texas is trying to find out. The Golden Arches recently launched a fully-automated store in Fort Worth, Texas to test the concept. 

“At just one location so far, customers can drive to the golden arches and expect to be served a Big Mac or a Happy Meal by a food and beverage conveyor instead of an actual, real-life human being,” wrote The Guardian.

“A spokesperson for McDonald’s told the Guardian that the test concept “is not fully automated”, emphasizing that the restaurant does employ a team comparable to that of a traditional store.

Smaller than a typical McDonald’s, the location is geared towards customers on the go rather than those who plan to dine inside. It limits interactions between team members and customers and uses ‘enhanced technology that allows the restaurant team to begin preparing customers’ orders when they’re near the restaurant.’

Customers can pick up their meals in a drive-through ‘order ahead lane’ or order at the touchscreen kiosk inside the store.”

McDonald’s said the goal of the concept is to make getting your food as seamless as possible.

A food blogger on Tik Tok going by the name Foodie Munster stopped by the new store to see how it works. 

@foodiemunster @McDonald’s ♬ Jingle Bell Rock – Bobby Helms

“‘If you go inside, you’ll see that it’s like no other McDonald’s you’ve been to before. There’s one kiosk to order your food,’ the TikToker explained. 

‘You can go up front and pick up there. It’s designed for you to go in and out.’

Another part of the video showed him picking up his food at the drive-thru, but instead of a person handing him the meal, it was delivered on a mechanical conveyer belt, according to The Daily Mail. 

‘When you pull in [to the drive-thru] they will ask you for a code [you got when ordering]. And in no time your food arrives. Got to say, it worked really well,’ @foodiemunster said.”

In 2021 McDonald’s sold its McD Tech Labs to IBM “in order to ‘further accelerate’ work on its automated voice ordering systems. The deal will help apply the technology to a wider variety of countries, languages and menus, McDonald’s said, while bolstering IBM’s Watson-powered customer service offerings.

The deal is expected to close in December. McD Tech Labs will join IBM’s Cloud & Cognitive Software team.

McDonald’s started testing AI drive-thru order taking in 10 Chicago-area restaurants in late spring. While the fast food chain saw “substantial benefits” for both customers and staff, it was clear the system needed improvement. It was only about 85 percent accurate, necessitating human intervention for nearly a fifth of orders. CEO Chris Kempczinski said it would take more than a year or two to implement the technology on a broader scale, and indicated that McDonald’s routinely bought companies (like the AI firm Apprente) for short stints before spinning them out with partners who can expand the technology — it clearly sees IBM as key to making AI drive-thrus a success, at McDonald’s and elsewhere.”

America News Nation told its readers that they shouldn’t worry that AI is going to take your job quite yet, however. They noted that experts have said, “The futuristic McDonald’s is an experimental concept store outside Fort Worth, Texas, aiming to improve service speed and accuracy by effectively severing the relationship between its workers and customers. But that doesn’t mean there are no humans in the store. If you pay close attention to the video, you can see a worker in the back behind a pane of glass. McDonald’s has said the store isn’t “fully automated” by any means, and it employs a similar number of staff as a traditional store — they’re just in the back making the food and keeping things running. And despite the fact most customers will never see a Taco Bell worker at its newfangled store, it has plenty of people working in the kitchen.”

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