McDonald's buys a tech firm that will let you order Big Macs from a voice-operated drive-thru

The machines continue to gain control of the legendary, and always busy McDonald’s (MCD) drive-thru menu board.

McDonald’s said Tuesday it agreed to acquire early-stage voice-based tech company Apprente. No financial terms were disclosed.

Founded in 2017, the artificial intelligence upstart is backed by some of tech’s venture capital heavyweights, including LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman’s Greylock Partners. McDonald’s will look to preserve Apprente’s culture and encourage the development of new technologies. The company’s group of scientists will be founding members of the Silicon Valley-based McD Tech Labs.

McDonald’s says it will continue to build out McD Tech Labs’ engineer and data scientist ranks.

“Building our technology infrastructure and digital capabilities are fundamental to our Velocity Growth Plan and enable us to meet rising expectations from our customers, while making it simpler and even more enjoyable for crew members to serve guests," said McDonald’s President and CEO Steve Easterbook in a statement.

“McDonald’s commitment to innovation has long inspired our team. It was quite clear from our various engagements that McDonald’s is leading the industry with technology” said Itamar Arel, Ph.D., co-founder of Apprente and now vice president of McD Tech Labs. “Apprente was borne out of an opportunity to use technology to solve challenging real world problems and we’re thrilled to now apply this to creating personalized experiences for customers and crew.” 

RELATED: Take a look at the things McDonald's employees will never tell you: 

17 things McDonald's employees won't tell you
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17 things McDonald's employees won't tell you

You can pay less for your favorite meal

Saving big on your favorite Mickey D’s order isn’t rocket science—and we know the best deals. Try ordering a sausage muffin ($1.29) and a side of round egg ($1) to make a cheaper version of the Sausage Egg McMuffin ($3.29). Other menu hacks: A sundae with a McFlurry topping is cheaper than a McFlurry, and ordering any sauce on the side is free of charge.


The ice cream machine really does break down

No, we’re not lying—there is a reason why it seems the ice cream machines are always broken. If the mixes for McFlurries and milkshakes are poured in the wrong sections, the entire machine could be out of commission for the day. You might be better off ordering a soda, instead.


There is no 'secret menu'

If you ask for an off-the-menu item, we might not know how to make it. Just tell us exactly what you want; we will whip up almost anything we have the ingredients for. Looking to shake up your usual order? This McDonald's has the best menu in the world.


Know your order before you reach the register

If you’ve been standing in a long line, be ready to order when it's your turn. Your indecisiveness can be a major inconvenience for us—not to mention the other customers waiting behind you in line.


Drive-throughs can't serve you on foot

Same goes for customers on bicycles and electric scooters. According to McDonald's policy, we can only serve people who are driving a motorized vehicle in the drive-thru lane. Trust us, it's for your own safety. Check out the craziest things drive-through workers have ever seen.


You might pay more for certain ingredients

Ordering double lettuce and double cheese on your Big Mac, for example, will cost you an extra 20 or 30 cents each. Luckily, you don't have to pay more for the secret ingredient that makes McDonald’s French fries so addictive.


Bring cash

Craving McDonald’s at 2 a.m.? Make sure you have cash on hand. Because the 24-hour locations must restart their cash register systems every night, there is always a certain time period when we can only accept cash.


You can get creative with the sauce

You won’t always love the sauce that comes with your order. But just ask us to substitute another sauce, instead—and don't worry, we won't charge you for it. Just make sure you're not eating at the most expensive McDonald's in the world.


We don't wear gloves -- but it's sanitary

Rest assured that employees are required to wash their hands at least once an hour. Gloves, on the other hand, can harbor a lot more bacteria than our clean fingertips. You'll want to be sure you're not ordering this drink ever, though.


Artisinal sandwiches are the most time-consuming menu items to make

So be prepared to wait a little longer for your order. (The chicken alone takes an average of eight minutes to prepare!) Same goes for Happy Meals; the toy, drink, and dessert take extra time to track down.


The egg McMuffins are made with real eggs

We physically crack the shells and use special rings on the grill to make them perfectly round. It’s the only breakfast item on the menu that uses real eggs, too.


You should always ask for a receipt

Certain people are paid to visit McDonald’s restaurants and rate their experiences online, and they are reimbursed for their purchase. So if a customer asks for a receipt, we are more likely to serve that customer first and give them the freshest food.


It's tougher to get hired than you think

Although our jobs might seem easy, a surprising number of applicants are turned down in the hiring process. So before you hand in your resume, make sure you have these soft skills employers are looking for.


We're not allowed to sit down 

Employees who work the drive-through window often remain standing for many hours at a time. All that standing can make our lower backs and feet ache.


But we get great employee discounts

Working for the famous golden arches has its perks. Popular companies like Apple, Via Rail,, and Payless all give us sweet discounts.


Avoid apple pies and breakfast burritos

Since they’re among the least-ordered items on our menu, they can stay on the shelves for a long time. Translation: They might not be as fresh as you think. By the way, this is the secret ingredient that makes McDonald’s apple pies so amazing.


But the beef is Grade A

This might surprise you, but our burgers are made of high-quality meat. The only ingredients we add are salt and pepper.



McDonald’s declined to make an executive available for an interview beyond the statements in the press release.

The Golden Arches said it has tested Apprente’s technology at select restaurants. How it works is as follows: you drive up to the menu board, speak to a voice-powered machine (just like ordering stuff from Amazon’s Alexa) to place an order, and drive up to the window to pick up the order.

Gone are the days of having to repeat your order five times into the drive-thru, which ultimately slows down the drive-thru lane. So, that’s a positive from a customer service and productivity standpoint.

The risks of using machines

But what could snag McDonald’s some negative headlines on this one is the potential removal of an extra crew member at the drive-thru window. After all, you will be speaking directly to a machine not a human.

It’s unclear how that dynamic will evolve over time, but with worker wages on the rise in fast food, all chains are exploring ways to reduce labor hours by using tech.

To be sure, McDonald’s is getting serious about harnessing tech to rethink its operations. McDonald’s announced in late March it acquired Dynamic Yield, its largest acquisition in 20 years. The technology creates suggested items for the drive-thru menu board based on time of day, weather, current restaurant traffic and trending orders.

McDonald’s said Tuesday the technology has quickly ramped up to 8,000 U.S. restaurants. It plans to have it available in all of its 14,000-plus U.S. restaurants and roughly 1,000 Australia stores by the end of this year.

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