McDonald's Is Quietly Opening New Stores With Robot Employees

Drive-thrus at McDonald's are looking a tad different now, at least for some locations in Fort Worth, Chicago, Denver, and Las Vegas. The chain, it so happens, is reportedly opening stores with robot employees. In December 2022, McDonald's released a statement saying that it was testing a new restaurant outside Fort Worth, Texas. The new restaurant design would limit the interaction between customers and human employees in the drive-thru, offering an automated experience.

A new Order Ahead Lane enables customers in a rush to place orders on the app ahead of time and drive through to pick them up from a conveyor belt, thus eliminating any human interaction in between. Designed for at-home diners and customers on the go, the new test outlet focuses on speed, efficiency, and accuracy with features like delivery pick-up rooms, kiosks for customers to place orders themselves, and food pick-up shelves. However, not everyone is loving the futuristic changes.

Some visitors find that much like humans, robots are also prone to errors. Several TikTokers allegedly experienced a series of mishaps while trying to order food at McDonald's automated drive-thrus. Chicken nuggets worth over $200 were accidentally added to orders, ice cream was mistaken for ketchup and butter packets, and the automated system misheard another customer's order for a different one. Netizens are also expressing other concerns over McDonald's move towards increased automation.

Not everything is hunky-dory at the automated stores

A few years ago, Amazon launched its first-ever cashier-free automated store, reducing its staff to an average of six workers per shift (via The Verge). Artificial intelligence is speculated to displace around 400 million job workers by 2030, according to McKinsey & Company. So, while partially automated McDonald's stores sound fascinating, there are concerns over the job displacement a potentially nationwide rollout of such stores may cause.

Although several find partially automated stores a good idea, a poll on Reddit revealed the majority aren't too happy with it. "Automation should help the human, not replace them," one user, wrote adding, "Trying to get a machine to do everything at once just isn't effective." That may be true because, in reality, McDonald's automated test stores aren't entirely automatic. As one Redditor wrote, "That new 'automated McDonald's' in Texas still has almost the same number of people working there as a normal one." Likewise, the Reason reported the Fort Worth location still has a normal drive-thru lane run by a human employee and that employees still run the kitchen.

According to The Texan, McDonald's still needs human employees at these locations to bridge the gap between customers and staff, deliver curbside orders, and help customers with self-serve kiosks. So, while McDonald's is certainly opening stores with robot employees, the human staff doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.