Artificial Intelligence: Restaurant Chain Panera Pilots Voice AI Ordering At Two Drive-Through Outlets

August 31, 2022 | Artificial Intelligence, News
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Panera’s objective is to enhance the guest experience.

Panera, the chain store of bakery-café fast casual restaurants with over 2,000 locations across the United States and Canada, is trialling acceptance of customers’orders through an AI-driven voice ordering system in drive-thru lanes at restaurants around Rochester, NY. (VoiceBot.ai)

It is hoped that Tori, the AI voice assistant, will cut some of the load on human servers, reduce order wait times, make ordering accurate, and improve the overall customer experience at Panera’s restaurants.

The move by Panera also underscores the continuing difficulties of finding experienced restaurant workers, as well as their rising costs. The pilot, if successful, also opens up the possibility of opening more lanes at drive-throughs, which comprise about 45% of Panera’s locations.

Doubtless, the restaurant chain has drawn valuable lessons from the spike in drive-through ordering during the Covid pandemic – leading to long lines of cars waiting for service at drive-through restaurants.

Tori

Tori, the AI voice assistant is provided to Panera by Boston-based voice AI hospitality startup OpenCity. Embedded into Panera’s systems, Tori functions similar to a human server.

It accepts orders at the drive-through speaker, and coordinates payments at the next window. It is also capable of making intelligent ordering suggestions to the customer.

However, human personnel remain on standby, ready to assume charge in case there’s a glitch in the voice AI system.

OpenCity has last been valued at $26.82 million, raising $6.82 million from investors.

Panera investing in technology

“At Panera, 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,” Panera COO Debbie Roberts said. “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-cafes.”

McDonald’s (NYSE; MCD), meanwhile, expanded its drive-thru voice assistant pilot program to 24 stores, according to a June media report.

The order accuracy at these stores is around 80%, and the company is said to be considering a universal rollout of the technology once accuracy levels hit 95% consistently.

Related Story: Dexai Robotics Raises $5.5M To Develop Alfred, an Aspiring Robotic Chef

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