Artificial intelligence
A number of fast food outlets McDonalds included are looking into ways that AI can enhance the drive-through experience. And it’s about time!

Largely speaking the drive-through operates the same way it did when it was first introduced back in the 1950s: you drive up to a speaker place your order, typically speaking to a real person and it is fulfilled at a separate payment counter. Around a decade ago there were experiments with segmentation and number plate recognition to predict orders as a way of reducing the lag time, but otherwise cutting edge technology has been largely ignored.

Drive through is big business. In the US around 70 per cent of sales are attributed to in-car dining. In the UK it is less but with outlets such as Greggs and Starbucks increasingly launching drive-through facilities this form of eating and drinking on the go is growing in popularity.

The problem is that speed of service is declining, this is because people’s orders are getting larger and more complex – what once might have been a Big Mac Meal is now a Big Mac Meal replacing the Coke with a Frappuccino, the fries with a salad with balsamic dressing on the side, an additional cheese burger – oh and a cookie for dessert. In 2003, drive-through times averaged 3 minutes and 10 seconds by 2018 they were a few seconds shy of 4 minutes.

AI is the answer. Already fast food outlets are adopting smart menus in-store – the same should apply for drive-thoughs. With the rise in voice technology through the adoption of Alexa, Siri and Cortana, consumers are increasingly used to this technology and therefore would not baulk at its usage in this context. The benefit of implementing a smart system is in the collection of data. Through machine learning all of the data can be analysed and used to identify patterns that will enhance the drive-through process – i.e. that the number of Big Macs needed from the period 12-2pm on a rainy Tuesday in March is greater than the number needed on a hot Tuesday in June. This will reduce the speed of service, resulting in a better customer experience leading to increased customers and therefore an uplift in profit per restaurant.  Additionally upselling rates will improve as AI will upsell 100 per cent of the time whereas humans are proven to only upsell around 40 per cent of the time.

Another benefit, going back to the segmentation and number plate recognition experiment mentioned earlier, as an extension of this if drive through process is integrated into the data management platform customer voices can become their unique biometric identifier and the AI can provide tailored recommendations to each individual customer and apply the order to a loyalty programme. The applications are endless.

With drive-through being such an important part of the fast food ecosystem it is time to bring it up to date and benefits from the data it can provide.

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Dave Gurney

CEO, Alchemetrics - Expert in Data & Digital Marketing
enabling senior marketers to value from engaging customers online.