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McDonald's To Buy Start-Up So It Can Automatically Tweak Drive-Thru Menu

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It looks like McDonald's is hitching a ride on the AI bandwagon after purchasing a machine learning start-up for a reported $300 million.

The fast-food chain has bought New York-based tech start-up Dynamic Yield in a move that could radically change how consumers order their favorite Big Macs. The company hopes to use the AI program to power its customer experience strategy beginning with its drive-thru windows.

AI-Powered McDonald's Menu Displays

McDonald's plans to take advantage of Dynamic Yield's machine learning program to optimize the menu display at drive-thru windows.

The AI will choose what products to show them based on historical sales data and the popularity of certain items. It will also consider other factors such as the time, weather, local events, and even the traffic levels in the surrounding area of the McDonald's store.

For example, if customers were to approach the menu display on a hot summer day, they would be able to see the different refreshments McDonald's has to offer, such as iced coffees or the McFlurry.

If there is a long ordering cue, customers would be presented with simpler items that are faster and easier to prepare for the store's crew.

The AI-assisted ordering system has already been tested at several McDonald's stores last year, and it appears the company is hoping to add more soon.

Daniel Henry, who is McDonald's executive vice president and global CIO, said that they plan to launch the new system at more than 1,000 stores over the next few months. Soon, all 14,000 McDonald's branches across the United States and even those in other markets will feature the AI-assisted menu displays.

The fast-food chain will incorporate its machine learning program to its smartphone app and self-order kiosks. In time, it might also make its way to the restaurant's kitchens.

Despite being acquired by McDonald's, Dynamic Yield will still exist as an independent entity.

In its blog, startup welcomed its upcoming tech ventures with its new parent company.

"We are excited to become a part of the amazing McDonald's family and look forward to continuing our work building the best personalization technology in the market," Dynamic Yield wrote.

Other Technology-Focused Investments

Buying Dynamic Yield is just one of the many tech-driven investments McDonald's has made under CEO Steve Easterbrook. Ever since Easterbrook took over leadership of the fast-food chain, he has overseen the launch of the McDonald's smartphone app and its partnership with online food ordering and delivery platform Uber Eats.

McDonald's HQ has even changed addresses, moving back to Chicago after 47 years of being in the city's suburbs. The new $250-million facility is located in the Chicago's West Town neighborhood. Many observers believe this is a way for the company to attract and recruit younger talents for its workforce.

Henry hinted at the possibility of using license plate recognition software along with the new machine learning program. The AI would identify customers through their vehicles and customize the menu display to match their buying history.

McDonald's rivals in the fast-food industry are also trying to leverage technology to attract more customers.

Fellow burger joint Burger King used its own mobile app to launch a promo where customers could buy a Whopper for just ¢1. The catch is that they have to be within 600 feet of a McDonald's store.

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