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Panera Bread targets speed and efficiency with AI-powered drive-thru

Drive-thru customers at two Panera Bread locations in New York will have their orders taken by artificial intelligence technology as the Missouri-based chain targets heightened order accuracy and reduced service times

Panera is testing OpenCity’s voice AI ordering technology for drive-thru orders in its Greece and Webster cafés | Photo credit: via Shutterstock


 

Panera Bread is trialing artificial intelligence (AI) technology in select New York drive-thru stores as it seeks to enhance the customer experience.  
 

The US food-to-go and coffee chain is testing OpenCity’s voice AI ordering technology, known as Tori, for drive-thru orders in its Greece and Webster cafés to maximise efficiency and increase speed of orders.  


The technology takes orders via a conventional drive-thru speaker, with the two companies saying customers should experience shorter waiting times and improved order accuracy. Additionally, Panera Bread staff can be redeployed to focus on fulfilling orders. 


The US has the most developed drive-thru coffee shop market in the world. The format gained further traction during the pandemic when social distancing became an important operational concern.  


The AI technology, which could be expanded to further stores if successful, complements contactless dine-in, curbside, rapid pick-up and delivery options at Panera Bread’s US outlets.  


“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. 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-cafés,” said Debbie Roberts, EVP and Chief Operating Officer, Panera Bread. 


Panera Bread operates over 2,000 stores across the US and Canada, over 40% of which are drive-thru. 


The company is part of Panera Brands, a fast-casual restaurant group formed in August 2021 with Caribou Coffee and Einstein Bros. Bagels and comprising around 4,000 stores. In July 2022, Panera Brands announced that it will not extend its investment agreement with USHG Acquisition Corp, citing unfavourable capital market conditions for the decision. 


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