Panera Drive-Thru

Panera Bread Adds Voice Assistant to New York Drive-Thrus

Panera Bread has introduced a voice assistant to the drive-thru lanes at restaurants around Rochester, NY, powered by Boston-based voice AI hospitality startup OpenCity. The two restaurants in the initial phase of the rollout have embedded OpenCity’s “Tori” AI to serve customers when they pull up in their vehicles.

Tori at Panera

Tori acts like a human server, taking orders and arranging payments at the next window. The idea is to reduce demand on the human servers to make the visit quicker and more efficient. Should there be an issue, someone is always on standby to take over for Tori as needed. The AI is capable of upselling and making recommendations, with continual interactions improving its performance. Panera is OpenCity’s newest addition to a client list that includes a Popeye’s franchise in Louisiana.

“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.”

Restaurant AI

There’s been a deluge of new and expanding voice AI options for restaurants of late and plenty of incoming investment cash. Voice AI for restaurants startup ConverseNow just raised $10 million. Sometimes the tech partner is quieter, as with the voice assistant Marcos Pizza debuted a while ago. Still, Checkers publicly announced that it had struck deals with both Valyant AI and Presto to embed a drive-thru voice assistant at its franchises and corporate-owned locations, respectively, with Presto soon planning to go public on the stock market through a SPAC merger. The bigger names in hospitality aren’t ignoring voice either. McDonald’s has widened its pilot testing of a voice assistant after selling McD Tech Labs to IBM and beginning a collaboration to develop an automated drive-thru service late last year. And SoundHound recently inked a deal with Square that will accelerate that trend by integrating its phone-based voice assistant for restaurants with Square’s popular payment service.


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