Panera Bread has become the latest restaurant brand to invest in drive-thru automation technology, with the announcement of the bakery-café chain’s partnership with OpenCity to trial AI voice-command technology at two cafes in the Rochester, New York area.
With the ongoing labor shortage, automation and artificial intelligence technology solutions deployed in multiple facets of the quick service and fast food industry have become increasingly popular. Panera announced on Monday that OpenCity’s proprietary voice AI ordering technology, known as “Tori”, will be tested in two stores in Greece, NY and Webster, NY starting August 29, with the aim of improve the speed and efficiency of drive-thru. .
“Panera is constantly looking for ways to innovate and improve the customer experience. When we heard about this technology, it was easy to test and learn to assess the potential benefits,” said Raj Anbalagan, vice -senior president of digital and technological innovation at Panera. Bread, told the Nation’s Restaurant News. “Ultimately, our goal is to reduce wait times, improve order accuracy, and allow associates to focus on freshly picking customer orders.”
Tori has been installed at both sites and will be able to take orders as normal, while Panera employees will be available to assist customers as needed with technology or to troubleshoot any issues. Customers can then stop at the window as usual after ordering to pay and receive their order from an employee as usual.
Anbalagan confirmed that this technology is not intended to replace employees:
“Tori streamlines our associates’ workday so they can focus on other tasks to enhance the customer experience and keep their bakery-café running smoothly,” he said. “[…] This test is not meant to be an answer to the labor challenges facing the industry, but rather an innovation that makes every Panera experience efficient, delicious, and something that keeps our customers coming back for more.
This isn’t the first test of automation technology Panera has announced recently: the company also tested a coffee-making robot in partnership with Miso Robotics earlier this year.
If the test at these two places is successful, it is very likely that Panera will roll out drive-thru automation to other cafes in the system.
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