Panera pilots talking restaurant bot to enhance guest experience in drive-thru bakery-cafés

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

OpenCity’s conversational voice AI Tori is changing the drive-thru experience. Pic: GettyImages/Svetlanais
OpenCity’s conversational voice AI Tori is changing the drive-thru experience. Pic: GettyImages/Svetlanais

Related tags Panera bread AI drive-thru Automation bakery chain

Drive-thru diners at two of Panera Bread café in greater Rochester, NY, will be greeted by a proprietary voice ordering AI tech called Tori, which has been developed by OpenCity to maximise efficiency and increase speed of orders.

About 45% of Panera’s more than 2,000 locations across the US have drive-thru lanes, which means it’s a big chunk of the business.

To improve the experience for its customers, the bakery-café giant is testing the artificial intelligence tech (AI) to take the drive-thru orders at two locations in upstate New York.

It’s the same experience all hungry drivers know, just enhanced. Pull up to the drive-thru, place the order as usual – with Tori – and pay the Panera worker at the window. Tori is on standby at the drive-thru speaker to take the order, with Panera staffers jumping in to troubleshoot any issues.

Tori is designed to cut down wait times, improve order accuracy and allow associates to focus on freshly preparing guests’ orders.

“The potential of AI drive-thru technology is incredibly exciting for us – we are eager to evaluate the performance of these tests and the possibility of expanding this technology in additional bakery-café,”​ said Debbie Roberts, EVP and chief operating officer of Panera Bread.

“Improving our guest experience is always our priority and we are using this innovative technology to help enable a faster, more accurate order for each of our drive-thru guests.”

Conversational voice AI

Drive-thrus became a lifeline for the hospitality industry during the pandemic, accounting for over 80% of revenue for many QSRs (quick service restaurants).

According to OpenCity, Tori is changing the way diners and restaurants communicate and is, to-date, being used by more than two dozen restaurants, including one Popeyes outlet, with the following results:

  • 20% faster speed of service
  • 150% more drinks sold
  • 20% increase in customer satisfaction
  • 99.9% Tori order accuracy
  • Increased employee productivity

Financial terms of Panera’s agreement with OpenCity weren’t disclosed, but it’s certainly not the first foray into automation to improve the customer experience by the 2,116 unit operation that spans across 48 US states and in Canada.

The St. Louis-headquartered company – acquired by JAB Holdings in 2017 for $7.5bn – has been ramping up its tech capabilities to support Contactless Dine-In, Curbside, Rapid Pick Up and Delivery. Earlier this year, it announced a test of Miso Robotics’ CookRight Coffee system, which uses AI to monitor coffee volume and temperature, while the first Panera To Go, a digital-only unit with no dine-in, was opened in Chicago. More such units are planned in California and Washington, D.C.

However, citing market conditions, Panera recently scrapped its deal with restauranteur Danny Meyer’s Enlighted Hospitality Investments, which had taken a $10m stake in the voice-ordering company ConverseNow.

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