Traffic may have been sluggish and continued growth a challenge during the last few months, but, McDonald’s shows no signs of slowing when it comes to technology initiatives. On the company’s Q3 earnings call this week, CEO Steve Easterbrook emphasized McDonald’s existing achievements as well as future ambitions for digital initiatives like delivery, the drive-thru, self-order kiosks, and mobile ordering.
Delivery remains the centerpiece of McDonald’s digital growth strategy — and its biggest driver. Easterbrook said on the call that the company expects delivery to drive $4 billion of global systemwide sales — up from $1 billion just three years ago.
On average globally, customers place 10 delivery orders per second, and Easterbrook, and McDonald’s saw an increase in those orders when it added DoorDash as a delivery partner in July, ending its longstanding exclusive deal with Uber Eats.
On this week’s earnings call, McDonald’s also highlighted its efforts in the drive-thru lane, where the chain has been deploying its Dynamic Yield technology that uses machine learning to personalize suggestions for customers based on data like weather, time of day, and popular menu items. McDonald’s acquired the tech in March of this year. Dynamic Yield is now installed at more than 9,500 McDonald’s drive-thrus in the U.S., with deployment plans for nearly every U.S. location with an outdoor digital menu board “expected by year-end,” Easterbrook said. The company will also roll out Dynamic Yield across all of Australia by 2020 and is currently evaluating future locations as well as the role of the technology in things like self-order kiosks and the McDonald’s mobile app. “Ultimately Dynamic Yield will facilitate a range of personalization benefits where we can leverage knowledge of the customer and order patterns to provide a tailored experience in restaurants at the drive-thru and on our app,” Easterbrook said.
Also fueling this drive towards more personalization for customers is Apprente, the Silicon Valley-based voice-ordering tech startup McDonald’s acquired in September of this year. Easterbrook said on the call he expects the technology to reduce complexity for McDonald’s workers — a known factor is longer wait times at the drive-thru nowadays. “Apprente talent and technology comes with the promise of more efficient and accurate ordering at the drive-thru, and a better experience for our customers.”
For the drive-thru, especially, efficiency remains an ongoing challenge. According to recent numbers, drive-thru wait times have significantly lengthened over time thanks to more complex menus as well as restaurants trying to accommodate the rising number of mobile orders their employees juggle in addition on those made onsite. Multiple QSRs are using different methods to combat this slowdown, from Chipotle’s “Chipotlans,” which are dedicated drive-thrus for mobile orders, to KFC’s drive-thru of the future, which is primarily designed to serve mobile orders.
While these efforts and others tackle some aspects of the drive-thru lag, they currently lack one of the key elements to the future of the drive-thru: using AI to predict both customer preferences and future demand, so that restaurants can be better prepared. Thanks to its efforts around Dynamic Yield and Apprente, McDonald’s still leads the QSR industry on that score — though others are bound to follow, and no doubt soon.