Why The Panera Drive-Thru Might Soon Look A Lot Different

Panera fans who live in the Upstate New York area aren't likely to miss Tori, which the company has enlisted to try and improve the chain's drive-thru experience. Tori is no ordinary hire — Panera is hoping the voice AI ordering technology will improve efficiency and increase the speed at which orders are taken, per Business Wire

Business Wire says Panera's drive-thru customers will meet Tori through the chain's drive-thru speakers; the program will take orders before sending guests to a drive-thru window, where they can settle their bill with a Panera associate. And if a guest is the type who isn't too comfortable with the idea of working with an AI program, it might be of comfort to know that human associates will also be on hand to troubleshoot, in case any problems arise. Tori is currently being deployed at two restaurants: one in Greece Ridge Center, and the other in Webster.

The company is very clear about what it hopes to achieve by deploying Tori. As the company's senior vice president of digital and technology innovation Raj Anbalagan put it, "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," adding that Tori "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," per Nation's Restaurant News

Other restaurants are testing AI at their drive-thrus, too

Panera isn't the first restaurant chain that is hoping to deploy artificial intelligence in its drive-thru lanes to increase efficiency. Other restaurants like Wendy's, McDonald's, and others have been experimenting with artificial intelligence too, but in those cases, BTIG's Peter Saleh says these chains are leaning into technology as a way of dealing with a chronic gap in the labor workforce, per Restaurant Dive. Unfortunately, test results reported by McDonald's AI deployment show that accuracy is in the low 80% range thus far; the company had been hoping that accuracy might shoot past 95% so it can use its artificial intelligence at other restaurants. Still, with the speed at which technology is evolving, BTIG says there is a chance voice ordering AI might still be deployed to a wider area later this year.

Tori doesn't represent the first time Panera is making use of AI either. In April of this year, QSR reported the company engaged Miso Robotics and its AI program, CookRight Coffee, to help its associates monitor the restaurant's coffee, specifically its volume, temperature, as well as the time coffee was prepared. At the time it was announced, Miso Robotics said the artificial intelligence program was meant to free up associates from checking coffee urns and preparing fresh batches of coffee.