Would you like fries with that? McDonald's digital drive-thrus will start making personalized recommendations

McDonald’s plans to pay $300 million to acquire technology company Dynamic Yield, whose software will allow the fast food giant to personalize its digital menu boards and push additional items based on what a customer has just ordered. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune)

McDonald’s digital drive-thru menus will soon recommend items to customers based on the weather, time of day and how busy the store is at the moment, part of a big investment in artificial intelligence that the fast food giant hopes will create a more personalized experience.

Chicago-based McDonald’s announced Monday that it plans to acquire Dynamic Yield, a company based in New York and Tel Aviv that specializes in decision logic technology. The $300 million acquisition is McDonald’s largest since the fast food giant purchased most of Chipotle 20 years ago, sources close to the company said.

McDonald’s tested Dynamic Yield’s technology in several of its restaurants last year and will roll it out to drive-thrus across the country this year, then in international markets. It also plans to integrate the technology into its mobile ordering app and the self-service kiosks inside stores.

For customers, that might mean menus will highlight soft serve ice cream on a hot day and a McCafe on a cold day, in addition to items that pair well with whatever the customer just ordered. The software will also track wait times at the restaurant so that, during busy periods, the menu suggests items that are easier for staff to make, allowing the drive-thru to run smoother.

Drive-thru wait times have increased annually for about the last five years, CEO Steve Easterbrook said during the company’s last earnings call, and the company has been looking at ways to halt that trend.

Restaurant chains have been trying to follow the lead of retailers like Amazon and Walmart that use mounds of data collected on their e-commerce sites to suggest items shoppers might want to buy. McDonald’s says it will be among the first to bring the technology to its physical stores.

“With this acquisition, we’re expanding both our ability to increase the role technology and data will play in our future and the speed with which we’ll be able to implement our vision of creating more personalized experiences for our customers,” Easterbrook said in a news release. McDonald’s reported $21 billion in revenues last year.

McDonald’s will be the sole owner of Dynamic Yield, which will continue to operate as a standalone company and serve other clients. Its clients include Urban Outfitters, Sephora and Ikea, according to its Web site.

In a video released by McDonald’s with the announcement, Easterbrook said: “When you serve 68 million customers every day, our ability to learn about our customers and play that back through this technology is unbeatable, it gives us a huge competitive advantage.”


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