Panera Bread tests artificial intelligence technology in drive-thru lanes

A Panera Bread location in Spring Hill, Florida.

Jeff Greenberg | Universal Image Group | fake images

Starting Monday, a computer will take orders from drive-thru customers at two Panera Bread locations in upstate New York in a test of the accuracy and ability of AI technology to reduce service times. .

The sandwich chain is the latest restaurant company to invest in potential improvements to the drive-thru experience. A spike in drive-thru orders during the Covid pandemic has led to long lines of cars around restaurants, forcing chains to focus on speed of service and order accuracy.

For example, McDonald’s has also been working to automate its drive-thru lane, announcing a partnership last year with IBM to work toward that goal. Yum Brands’ Taco Bell and Restaurant Brands International’s Burger King have been building double drive-thru lanes in some locations to allow customers to pick up their digital orders more quickly. Fast casual chains like Shake Shack and Sweetgreen that once resisted drive-thru lanes have been adding them.

Panera Bread uses OpenCity’s voice ordering technology, called Tori. The startup has raised $6.82 million from private investors, giving the company a valuation of $26.82 million, according to Pitchbook. So far, its technology is being used by more than two dozen restaurants, including at least one Popeyes location in Louisiana, the OpenCity website said.

Financial terms of Panera’s deal with OpenCity were not disclosed.

At Panera, customers will interact with Tori when they stop at the self-service loudspeaker. Panera employees will be ready to offer assistance and take payment for orders.

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The trial will be used to assess whether Tori should expand to more Panera restaurants, Panera chief operating officer Debbie Roberts said in a statement. About 45% of Panera’s more than 2,000 locations have drive-through lanes.

Panera has already been toying with the use of automation to improve the customer experience. Earlier this year, it announced a trial of Miso Robotics’ CookRight Coffee system, which uses artificial intelligence to monitor coffee volume and temperature.

Panera has been privately owned since 2017, when JAB Holding bought the company for $7.5 billion. The chain has continued to invest in technology, boosting its digital sales and maintaining its reputation as a leader in the restaurant industry. Earlier this summer, citing market conditions, he ruled out a planned deal with restaurateur Danny Meyer’s investment group that would have helped him go public again.

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