Panera Bread became the latest restaurant brand to invest in drive-thru automation technology, with the announcement of the bakery-café chain’s partnership with OpenCity to test out AI voice ordering technology in two café locations in the Rochester, N.Y. area.
With the ongoing labor shortage, automation and AI technology solutions being deployed in multiple facets of the quick-service and fast-casual industry have become increasingly popular. Panera announced Monday that OpenCity’s proprietary voice AI ordering technology, known as “Tori” for short, will be tested out in two stores in Greece, N.Y. and Webster, N.Y. starting Aug. 29, with the intention of improving drive-thru speed and efficiency.
“Panera is consistently looking for ways to innovate and elevate the guest experience – when we learned of this technology, it was an easy choice to test and learn to evaluate potential benefits,” Raj Anbalagan, senior vice president of digital and technology innovation at Panera Bread, told Nation’s Restaurant News. “Ultimately, our goal is to cut down on wait times, improve order accuracy and allow associates to focus on freshly preparing guest orders.”
Tori was installed at both of these locations and will be able to take orders as normal, while Panera employees will be on-hand to assist customers as needed with the technology or troubleshoot with any issues. Customers then can pull up to the window as normal after ordering to pay and receive their order from an employee as usual.
Anbalagan confirmed that this technology is not meant to replace employees:
“Tori streamlines the workday for our associates so they can focus on other tasks to elevate the guest experience and make their bakery-cafe run smoothly,” he said. “[…] This test is not meant to be an answer to the labor challenges facing the industry but rather it’s an innovation that makes every Panera experience efficient, delicious and something that makes our guest come back for more.”
This is not the first test of automation technology Panera has announced recently: the company also tested a coffee-brewing robot in partnership with Miso Robotics earlier this year.
If the test at both of these locations is successful, then it’s very likely that Panera will roll out automation in the drive-thru to other cafes throughout the system.
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