- Panera is testing OpenCity’s artificial intelligence voice technology in drive-thru lanes at two locations in the Rochester, New York area starting Monday.
- The chain is looking to drive 5% to 10% improvement in speed of service and make incremental improvements in order accuracy, Raj Anbalagan, Panera’s SVP of digital and technology innovation, said in an emailed statement.
- Panera has been placing more emphasis on drive-thru and loyalty over the past two years, including via its Unlimited Sip Club program, as its off-premise sales remain high.
Panera has been eyeing a test with OpenCity’s products since mid-2021, Anbalagan told Restaurant Dive, and the current test is the brand’s first foray into AI-ordering tech.
Drive-thru guests order as usual, assisted by OpenCity’s product, called Tori. The AI voice assistant is intended to shorten wait times, boost accuracy and free up workers to focus on preparing food rather than taking orders, according to the press release.
Panera employees, who have been trained in this technology, will still be available at the drive-thrus at the two testing locations to take over if customers need more assistance, Anbalagan said. Personalization is another attractive AI feature for the company, enabling Panera to take advantage of customer data obtained through its loyalty program, which had at least 43 million members in 2021.
While AI ordering systems promise faster throughput and fewer order errors, as well as the opportunity to reallocate labor, recent tests have produced ambiguous results. McDonald’s drive-thru voice AI test, according to a BTIG analysis, fell well below the accuracy rate desired by the brand. Checkers and Rally’s has been satisfied enough with the technology to enlist two AI companies, Valyant AI and Presto, at its drive-thrus. In 2021, Wendy’s partnered with Google Cloud to integrate AI-generated transcriptions of phone and drive-thru orders at some stores.
Panera’s approach to tech innovation so far has mostly hinged on changing store formats and seeking marginal efficiencies in operational processes. In June, the company opened its first digital-only store, with two more scheduled to open in densely populated urban markets later this year. In 2021, Panera joined a number of other chains in debuting a new format emphasizing its drive-thru.
On the operational side of things, Panera began testing an automated coffee monitoring system designed by Miso Robotics earlier this year. In February, the chain added contactless indoor dining to its mobile app.