McDonald’s Corp is turning to Alphabet Inc’s Google to build out a chatbot that will help its army of restaurant workers get quick answers on questions like how to clean an ice cream machine.
Called “Ask Pickles”, the bot will be trained on everything from manuals to data generated by equipment at restaurants. It will give workers guidance on the spot, potentially boosting productivity in an industry where every second counts.
The test is one of the initiatives McDonald’s is implementing as it rolls out Google Cloud’s data and generative artificial intelligence tools in restaurants around the world, highlighting the increasing importance of technology and digital channels to the chain’s business.
McDonald’s mobile app, kiosks and delivery now account for more than 40% – or almost US$9bil (RM42.08bil) – of the sales generated by franchised and company-operated stores across its top six markets, according to third-quarter financial figures.
“We’re not yet leveraging the full potential of technology, nor are we leveraging the full potential of our scale,” Brian Rice, McDonald’s global chief information officer, said in an interview ahead of the company’s Wednesday strategy update for investors.
Underpinning the upgrades is Google Cloud’s edge computing technology, which allows retailers to run systems like kiosks off of small servers connected directly to an individual store or restaurant, rather than relying on a centralised cloud.
That kind of setup is more reliable and allows for faster processing while enabling data collection, said Thomas Kurian, Google Cloud’s chief executive officer. In the future, franchisees or managers may have access to dashboards telling them that it’s time to change the fryer oil or that freezers aren’t running efficiently, Rice said. Thousands of restaurants will start receiving hardware and software upgrades next year.
At some point, McDonald’s could use the data to get a broader look at how equipment performs across its restaurants – most of which are operated independently by franchisees. That, in turn, could inform supplier relationships. The ultimate goal is to reduce downtime, Rice said.
The two companies will also work on uses for generative AI. McDonald’s size – it’s shooting for more than 50,000 restaurants by 2027 – means its stores will generate reams of information to train AI models, Rice said.
“The more data you feed gen-AI models, the better they become,” the executive said.
Using one software platform to power all of McDonald’s restaurant and customer-facing digital platforms will allow the company to roll out upgrades faster, according to the chain. It will also help make the ordering experience more consistent for guests, McDonald’s said. – Bloomberg