McDonald's latest sales numbers reveal that even higher prices can't keep customers away. But despite the fact that the chain is doing better than most, there is one thing that Mickey D's doesn't want to spend its money on. And that's robots.
Even in a tight labor market where fast-food chains are spending more on wages and struggling to staff their restaurants, McDonald's CEO Chris Kempczinski says the long-term economic benefits of automation haven't eclipsed the costs of funding the infrastructure.
"The idea of robots and all those things…it's not practical in the vast majority of restaurants," Kempczinski said in an earnings call on July 26. "You're not going to see that as a broad-based solution anytime soon."
McDonald's has been toying with some automation efforts, leading us to believe that it was gung ho about the idea of replacing its human workers.
Last year, the burger giant started testing a voice recognition system at 24 drive-thrus in the Chicago area. But the advanced technology, which would enable a computer to take customers' orders, is far from perfect. For the chain to make wider use of AI, the system needs to improve accuracy from the current 80% to the 95%-plus range. Right now, the novelty would cause too many errors for McDonald's to begin widely using it in the near future.
Rather than big tech rollouts, McDonald's says it will be "taking advantage of customer data," and improving ordering systems, which it says will help reduce labor demands in the meantime. Instead of automation, the fast-food chain says it will be mostly doing things "the old-fashioned way."
Sign up for our newsletter!
Although McDonald's may be putting a pin in recruiting robotic helpers, it proved itself as a reliable winner among fast-food brands once again. Its price hikes and value items have fueled U.S. same-store sales growth of almost 4% in the last quarter, which was higher than expected.
Robots may not be on McDonald's mind, but they are on the minds of several other quick-service chains that are using technology to take orders, prepare food, and even fulfill deliveries.
In October 2021, select Chili's restaurants have introduced robots that can run food and bus tables, and just this year, both Domino's and Chick-fil-A have begun testing autonomous delivery vehicles at select locations in Texas. Additionally, "Flippy" from Miso Robotics has been deep frying food at both White Castle and Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants as a test.