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McDonald's will use AI to automatically tweak drive-thru menus

It might give McFlurrys more prominent placement on hot days, for instance.
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McDonald's

When you roll up to a McDonald's drive-thru in the near future, you might notice the menu changing while you're ordering to persuade you to buy a few more items. The fast food giant is buying machine learning startup Dynamic Yield for a reported $300 million, and the first stop for the company's AI is the drive-thru window.

The system will look at factors such as the weather, time, local events, traffic levels at the restaurant and on nearby roads, historical sales data, currently popular items and even what you're ordering to optimize menu displays at drive-thru windows. It might, for instance, promote the McFlurry or iced coffees on hot days, or suggest simpler items that are faster for employees to prepare if there's a long line.

McDonald's tested the AI at several restaurants last year, and executive vice president and global chief information officer Daniel Henry told Wired he expects more than 1,000 locations will be using it within the next three months. The system will ultimately reach all 14,000 US restaurants and expand to other markets. McDonald's also plans to add the AI to self-order kiosks and its mobile app, and perhaps other parts of its business, such as kitchens.

Dynamic Yield will still operate as an independent company. Its current clients include Ikea, Sephora and Urban Outfitters. The potential applications at its new parent company are particularly intriguing, however. For instance, Henry said the company may eventually use license plate recognition as part of the system. That way, the AI could identify your car and tailor the menu specifically according to your purchase history.

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