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AI Drive-Thru Technology Gains Traction Amid Challenges

Restaurants are increasingly turning to artificial intelligence to handle drive-thru orders as a strategy to reduce labor costs, although widespread implementation may still be several years away. Notably, significant investments are being made by large chains to adopt this technology due to their financial capability to scale such innovations.

As of this year, 16% of restaurant operators intend to invest in AI technologies like voice recognition, spurred by escalating labor costs and a shift towards drive-thru service exacerbated by the pandemic and recent wage increases, according to a National Restaurant Association survey.

However, the adoption of AI in restaurants hasn't been seamless. McDonald’s recently announced it would discontinue its Automated Order Taker pilot in partnership with IBM, turning instead to different suppliers. Conversely, competitors like White Castle and Taco Bell are progressing with trials, engaging other vendors.

Despite some early setbacks, including issues with accent recognition and the occasional necessity of human oversight as noted by companies like Presto Automation, the industry sees potential growth in AI use. SoundHound, an AI company, claims its technology can handle over 90% of orders autonomously and can boost efficiency by about 10%.

The future of AI in drive-thrus is promising, with analysts predicting significant adoption within the next 18 months. However, concerns remain regarding the potential impact on customer service and operational challenges like poor Wi-Fi connectivity or environmental noise.

Ultimately, while companies like McDonald’s reassess their strategies, others like Yum Brands’ Taco Bell and Wendy’s continue to explore the possibilities, signaling a cautious but ongoing shift towards integrating AI in restaurant operations.


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