At a McDonald’s drive-thru in a Chicago suburb, customers may notice something different about the voice that takes their orders for Big Macs and fries.
“Welcome to McDonald’s, what can I get for you?” it asks in a welcoming, unmistakably feminine tone.
While the voice sounds helpful, it’s also stilted and monotonous enough for the average customer to figure out they’re being served by a computer, not a human. It’s a lot like Alexa or Siri, but for a drive-thru: a system driven by artificial intelligence that McDonald’s is testing out to speed up its service.
In 2019 the average McDonald’s drive-thru took six minutes and 18 seconds, but recently the company trimmed that to five minutes and 49 seconds in 2020, according to an annual report from market researcher SeeLevel HX. And with drive-thrus accounting for a larger share of fast-food sales than ever before (in top markets, it’s 70% of sales at McDonald’s), the race is on for major chains to get those speeds even faster.