When it comes to fast food, many of us are creatures of habit. One of the joys of eating at a chain is knowing what you like and getting exactly what you pay for. There are precious few surprises in store with a Big Mac and French fries. You know what to expect. However, even though most of us would probably quite like to just show up to our favourite franchise and have our food already laid out in front of us, there is still something undeniably sinister about having a machine choose every aspect of our dinner.
This Terminator-style future, where Skynet has been consigned to burger flipping and hospitality, could well be about to become a reality, thanks to an announcement from McDonald’s. This week, the world’s largest fast food business revealed that they have bought out Dynamic Yield, a New York and Tel Aviv-based company billed as pioneering the movement towards effective “decision technology”, in a deal reported to have cost $300 million. In a nutshell, the business aims to use AI to predict the decisions we are going to make.
The aim of the new tech is to help create an experience personalised to each individual customer when they visit the restaurant. In a press release to accompany the news, McDonald’s describe how menus will “show food based on time of day, weather, current restaurant traffic and trending menu items,” while adding that the “decision technology can also instantly suggest and display additional items to a customer's order based on their current selections.”
Some McDonald’s regulars may well be aware that this isn’t the first time that the business have experimented with high tech solutions to problems most customers never knew existed. A similar system was tested at select locations at the end of last year, prompting the chain to claim that they were “one of the first companies” to recognise the potential of this kind of technology.
However, while the old system focused on interactive screens inside restaurants, the new Dynamic Yield approach will see the technology rolled out in drive thru restaurants across America. The hope is that, from this basis, the technology can then be incorporated into all existing interactive technology throughout the business.
In a statement accompanying the news of McDonald’s purchase, McDonald’s President and Chief Executive Officer, Steve Easterbrook said, “Technology is a critical element of our Velocity Growth Plan, enhancing the experience for our customers by providing greater convenience on their terms.” He went on to add, “With this acquisition, we're expanding both our ability to increase the role technology and data will play in our future and the speed with which we'll be able to implement our vision of creating more personalised experiences for our customers.”
The fast food industry has always been about adaptability and delivering solutions to the problem of serving food quickly. By and large, customers have always been on board. However, it remains to be seen whether, once the practicalities of the proposed system become clear, whether this is a step too far for some people.