McDonald’s will acquire a voice-technology company to help speed up ordering at the drive-through, the latest in a series of high-tech investments that the fast-food chain is making as it strives to improve wait times and draw customers to its restaurants.
McDonald’s declined to disclose the terms of its agreement to buy Mountain View, Calif.-based Apprente, which it described as an early stage leader in “voice-based platforms for complex, multilingual, multi-accent and multi-item conversational ordering.”
The voice-recognition technology “is expected to allow for faster, simpler and more accurate order taking at the drive-through with future potential to incorporate into mobile ordering and kiosks,” the company said.
Apprente, founded in 2017, also will be the founding member of a new Silicon Valley-based group within McDonald’s called McD Tech Labs, which will hire additional engineers and data scientists to meet future business needs.
Automating the ordering process is among several steps McDonald’s is taking to improve wait times, which had increased for the past several years as the chain added more complex items to the menu.
The company has removed its signature craft sandwiches and streamlined its late-night and all-day breakfast menus, helping to cut drive-through service times by 15 seconds in June compared with a year ago, CEO Steve Easterbrook said during the second-quarter earnings call in July.
The Apprente deal also marks McDonald’s latest foray into the tech sector, one strategy to innovate amid tough competition from other restaurants and rein in swelling labor costs. The fast-food giant in April paid $300 million to acquire Dynamic Yield, whose technology personalizes digital menu displays at drive-through based on time of day, weather, trending menu items and restaurant traffic, and suggests additional items for customers to purchase.
Now deployed in 8,000 U.S. restaurants, the technology has increased how much customers spend per order, Easterbrook said in the second-quarter conference call. The company also invested in mobile app vendor Plexure to improve its global mobile app.