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McDonald's Scraps Their AI Ordering: A Sign for the Future of AI in the Food Industry?

7 Minute Read

Key Takeaways

  • McDonald's decision to scrap AI ordering systems highlights potential challenges and limitations in current AI technology within the fast-food industry.
  • This shift may signal a broader trend of reevaluating AI effectiveness and customer satisfaction across various industries, however the key is finding the right use cases for AI in business.
  • Despite setbacks, AI technology continues to evolve and holds major potential for future integration in improving business operations and customer interactions in all sectors. 

The Rise and Fall of AI in McDonald's

AI McDonalds Ordering error

McDonald’s is killing its AI voice-ordering experiment—it was messing up too many orders at over 100 drive-thrus. They’re not ditching the tech dreams though; they're still hunting for a smarter AI setup that doesn’t drop the ball. Meanwhile, the fast food world isn’t sleeping on AI—everyone from Wendy's to White Castle is trying to tech up their order game. Some major set backs? The tech’s still relatively new, stumbling over accents and drowning in background noise.

McDonald’s massive shake-up has everyone asking: what’s up with AI in the fast food industry? Are the bots not cutting it, or is it just a bump in the road for tech in the burger biz? We’ll see what this means for the future of fast food and AI, but before it all plays out here’s a few things to chew on. 

Let’s Break It Down 

McDonald's initial foray into artificial intelligence was met with considerable enthusiasm. The company aimed to streamline operations and enhance the customer experience by reducing wait times and minimizing order errors. The implementation of AI was seen not only as a step towards modernization but also as a potential cost-saving measure by reducing the reliance on human staff.

The reality, as you can tell by the title of this article, did not meet expectations. Customers and staff reported a whole slew of issues ranging from frustrating user interfaces to inaccurate order processing. Many viral TikTok’s showcase quarrels with the “McDonald’s Robot” ranging from complete order failures to McChicken bills in the triple digits. All that said, the AI system simply struggled to handle the nuances of those sometimes complexly customized orders. 

Long story short, it was definitely not a 1:1 substitute for a living, breathing, actual human. ← We have some thoughts, more on this later. 

Several factors contributed to the setbacks faced by McDonald's AI systems:

  1. Complexity of Human Language: AI's understanding of diverse accents, dialects, and colloquialisms proved inadequate, leading to communication breakdowns.
  2. Customization Limitations: Fast-food orders often involve detailed customization, which the AI failed to capture accurately, causing customer dissatisfaction.
  3. Technical Glitches and System Reliability: Frequent technical issues led to longer wait times—the exact problem the technology aimed to solve.

The Downside of AI Drive Thru’s

McDonalds drive through line 

AI drive-thrus sound like a dream—speedy orders without human error?  Not quite. McDonald's found out the hard way that AI can't handle a few things: accents, slang, and custom orders.  The takeaway? Until AI gets smarter, your burger might be safer in human hands.

The Perks of AI for Fast Food Chains 

While AI has some downsides, there are considerable benefits to employing AI in certain areas of the fast food biz. It’s all about knowing the right use case for the tech. Here are a few key areas where AI implementation can help: 

  1. Precision and Efficiency: AI improves order accuracy and speeds up service by automating tasks like taking orders and processing payments.
  2. Inventory Management: AI predicts demand trends, helping restaurants manage stock levels more effectively and reduce waste.
  3. Personalization: AI analyzes customer data to offer personalized menu recommendations and promotions, enhancing the dining experience.
  4. Operational Insights: AI tools provide valuable insights into operational efficiency, customer preferences, and sales trends, enabling better decision-making.
  5. Food Safety: AI monitors storage conditions and tracks food through the supply chain, ensuring compliance with safety standards and reducing the risk of contamination.

How Fast Food Giants like Starbucks and Chipotle Use AI 


Starbucks leverages a variety of artificial intelligence technologies to optimize its business operations and enhance the customer experience. Key applications include:

  1. Personalization: Through its Deep Brew AI program, Starbucks provides personalized recommendations to customers on its app, using data from previous purchases and preferences. This helps increase customer satisfaction and sales.
  2. Inventory Management: AI-driven algorithms predict inventory needs, ensuring that each store is well-stocked with popular items and minimizing waste.
  3. Customer Service: AI powers the chatbots on Starbucks' app and website, enabling quick and efficient customer service by handling routine inquiries and support tasks.
  4. Operational Efficiency: AI is utilized to manage store operations, including staffing decisions based on predictive analysis of store traffic and transaction volumes.
  5. Voice Ordering: Starbucks incorporates AI with voice recognition technology, allowing customers to place orders through voice-activated devices, streamlining the ordering process.


Chipotle employs artificial intelligence to enhance its operational efficiency and elevate the customer experience. Here are some of the ways AI is integrated into Chipotle's business model:

  1. Personalization: Chipotle utilizes AI to offer personalized marketing and promotions through its app, tailoring recommendations based on the customer's previous orders and preferences. This targeted approach helps increase customer loyalty and repeat business.
  2. Customer Interaction: AI powers the chatbot feature on Chipotle's digital platforms, enabling efficient customer service by addressing queries and facilitating order placements, which helps streamline the ordering process and improves customer satisfaction.
  3. Operational Efficiency: AI is used to analyze sales data and customer traffic patterns, aiding in inventory management and staffing decisions. This helps ensure that each location is adequately stocked and staffed based on predicted customer volumes.
  4. Kitchen Automation: In some areas, AI is being tested for automating certain kitchen operations, such as grilling meats or preparing specific dishes, to ensure consistency in food preparation and reduce operational costs.


Domino's utilizes artificial intelligence to enhance its operations and customer experience significantly. The company has implemented AI across several key areas:

  1. Customer Interaction: Domino's employs AI for its virtual ordering assistant, "Dom," which helps customers place their orders through the website or app efficiently. This AI-driven chatbot handles inquiries and facilitates a seamless ordering process.
  2. Delivery Optimization: AI algorithms are used to optimize delivery routes, ensuring faster and more efficient delivery times. This technology takes into account traffic conditions, weather, and delivery history to predict the best routes and delivery sequences.
  3. Kitchen Operations: AI is also used in predicting order volume and managing inventory, helping stores optimize their food prep processes and reduce waste.
  4. Voice Recognition: For voice ordering, Domino's has integrated AI with its ordering system to accept orders through various smart devices, enhancing user convenience by allowing voice-activated commands.

Future of AI in Customer Service

Despite these challenges, the future of AI in customer service is still brighter than it ever was. Advances in machine learning and natural language processing could eventually address the shortcomings seen in the McDonald's AI fallout. The key to successful AI integration lies in continuous improvement and adapting the technology to meet specific industry needs. This event may signal a shift, though. Companies might now exhibit more caution in implementing AI solutions, focusing more on pilot programs and gradual rollouts to gauge effectiveness before full-scale implementation but that in no way means AI has plans to go anywhere. 

What’s Next for McDonald's?

McDonalds building in busy city

While McDonald's may return to a more traditional service model to stabilize operations and rebuild customer trust, this whole situation is a heads-up to the fast-food world: Fancy tech needs to work for the people. 

Now, McDonald’s is back to basics, but don’t count out their tech adventures just yet—they’re just recalibrating. Maybe they’ll find AI’s sweet spot in something like inventory, not ordering.

Can AI Replace Humans? 

Remember we said we had some thoughts? Well, put it this way, AI is never a 1:1 swap with a real-life human offering the human experience we all share. But businesses and brands need to dip their toes in the AI waters if they’re simply going to keep up with competition and customer expectations. 

The key is to adopt these AI advancements in use cases that simply make the most sense for their operations. That process will look different from business to business but the same will be true across the board: AI tools work best when implemented with human supervision and care. 

If you’re considering tapping into the AI well of opportunity for your own business, we suggest taking an audit of your processes and operations and creating a sweet spot “recipe” that’s unique to your business so you can take advantage of the thousands of AI advancements out there. 

Take note: This article you’re reading right now utilized a handful of AI tools but our internal “recipe” calls for a living breathing human (that would be me) to tie up all the loose ends and pour all the living breathing human stuff right on into it. Again, not a 1:1 swap but definitely packs a punch when speaking about efficiencies in our unique business model. 

The Benefits of AI in Marketing and Business 

On the tails of McDonald’s scraping their AI ordering systems, it’s important to over-emphasize that there’s no shortage of opportunity for fast-food businesses and all businesses alike to take advantage of major AI advancements to catapult their marketing success. As entrepreneurs and marketers, AI is simply just changing the way we do things. 

There is no shortage of AI benefits for entrepreneurs, but let’s just highlight a few. 

Google's AI Overview is stepping up the game by making search more engaging and can unlock major SEO potential for brands creating great SEO-optimized content for organic search. YouTube’s AI tools continue to transform how we create and share videos. On top of that, AI is weaving its way into Google Ads with ad campaigns and data management

AI's making things more intuitive and effective across the board and totally changing the marketing landscapebut we'll save that for a different day. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Why did McDonald's decide to remove AI ordering systems? 

McDonald's faced significant challenges with AI ordering, including issues with speech recognition and order accuracy, leading to customer dissatisfaction and operational inefficiencies.

What does this mean for the future of AI in the fast-food industry? 

While this represents a setback, it also encourages companies to invest in more robust AI systems that can handle complex customer interactions more effectively.

What’s the future of AI in the food industry? 

AI is set to revolutionize the fast food industry by automating operations, enhancing customer experiences through personalization, and improving efficiency in inventory and staffing. It will provide data-driven insights for better decision-making and enhance safety and sanitation practices. The integration of AI promises to streamline operations, create more engaging customer interactions, and drive the industry's future growth.

How can AI still be beneficial to companies like McDonald's? 

AI can be applied in other areas such as inventory management, predictive analytics for consumer behavior, and personalized marketing, which might provide better returns on investment.

What are the lessons learned from McDonald's experience with AI? 

The key takeaway is the importance of aligning technology with actual customer needs and ensuring that innovations genuinely enhance the customer experience, rather than complicate it.

How is AI changing the marketing landscape? 

AI is totally shaking up the marketing game by personalizing customer interactions, automating the boring stuff, and diving deep into data for better insights. It's tweaking campaigns on the fly for better results and smarter spending, plus helping to predict what’s next in market trends. AI is making marketing not just faster, but smarter, helping businesses stay ahead in a super competitive world.

What are some benefits of using AI for entrepreneurs? 

AI is flipping marketing on its head by customizing how we chat with customers, automating the routine tasks, and sifting through data for juicy insights. It's fine-tuning ad targeting, tweaking campaigns on-the-fly for the best results, and figuring out which moves will boost ROI. AI also helps whip up content, smooths out customer service with chatbots, and peeks into the future to keep businesses ahead of the curve. 

Emily Cote

Emily Cote

Wife + Mama | Author | Senior SEO Content Manager.

Emily Cote is the SEO wizard who’s been turbocharging online visibility and hooking audiences for over a decade. Obsessed with language and the nuances of communicating a brand's unique story, she crafts killer SEO strategies that dial-up web traffic and increase engagement.