How Customers Really Feel About AI at Drive-Thrus

Like most headline-grabbing technology, artificial intelligence (AI) has its pros and cons. But like it or not, AI is being implemented in so many industries, including foodservice, and is here to stay.

For readers seasoned enough to remember, there was a time 20-30 years ago when mobile phones were being tried on for size by consumers. There was a mixture of early adopters and those who questioned cell phones’ staying power. Look at how widespread mobile phones are today.

Think, too, of debit cards replacing checks. Nay-sayers in the ‘90s and perhaps before could not imagine a paperless way of paying bills. But many Gen-Zers, those born after 1995, and others have no reason for paper checks in an increasingly digital world.

As such, brands must consider how they roll AI out to their customers and prospects. Without a doubt, implementing AI saves restaurants money and helps with widespread staffing shortages, but most drive-thru patrons think  improvements need to be made. Our data speaks louder than words.

Intouch Insight recently surveyed 1,100-plus U.S. consumers to understand how technology is impacting the drive-thru experience. The findings revealed mixed customer sentiment toward AI usage in drive-thrus. Not surprisingly, what one customer considers convenience makes another feel uncomfortable. 

Customers Say, “No Thanks”

Our study found nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of respondents aren’t fans of AI voice and video tech. The two top reasons were consumers felt it was an invasion of privacy and it eliminated jobs.

McDonald’s, for example, started using AI in 2019 at some locations to capture license plate numbers. Doing so enabled the fast-food giant to look at previous history and make suggestions on touchscreens. AI also helped it upsell.

But some customers felt such technology-enabled personalization was invasive and impersonal. Our study backs that up.

For instance, one survey respondent said, “I don’t want [restaurants] to collect personal information about me. Companies already know more than they need to.” Another person said, “I don’t want to talk to a computer to place my order, I would rather talk to a human and keep them employed. There is too much room for mistakes to be made.”

Other Patrons Say, “We’re All In”

At the same time, AI-enabled drive-thru technology helps brands stay on top of customer needs, including faster service.

It enables restaurants to personalize orders and use loyalty points. For example, if you know Jenny Miller regularly comes through the drive-thru every Tuesday evening and places the same order, employees can view her history and say, “Great to see you, Jenny! Would you like your regular spicy chicken sandwich and fries? You also have enough loyalty points for a free meal if you want to cash them in.”

Such personalization helps confirm a brand knows its customers’ preferences and appreciates their patronage.

Our research found the two top reasons respondents liked AI is because it enabled quicker service and removed the need to talk to employees. It also reduces wait times, boosts profitability by upselling, stores order history and enables employees to do higher-value tasks.

Here is a sampling of what proponents had to say about AI in drive-thrus: “I am all about speed and convenience, and I think this would save in each.” Another person said, “People make mistakes, but AI/computers don’t.”

Restaurants Say, “Help Please”

People love the convenience of restaurant drive-thrus It saves them time and for those still concerned about germs through personal contact or dining with dozens of other consumers, it enables them to feel safer by picking up orders and eating at home.

But savvy restaurant operators should understand customer sentiment toward modern technology like AI as some feel it gathers unnecessary and invasive information. The best way to do this is to know patrons’ feelings toward this tech through data.

Consider partnering with an experienced customer experience provider, well-versed in the restaurant industry, to help. The right partner can help you identify and avoid the pitfalls as you implement this powerful new technology, and ensure that once implemented, the tech is performing as promised.

The AI genie is out of the bottle – there’s no stuffing it back. But it’s wise to understand what consumers think of AI in drive-thrus so brands can make better-informed decisions and keep attracting customers to their restaurant.