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08/29/2022

Panera pilots AI at the drive-thru

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Panera Bread’s new prototype
Panera is piloting a drive-thru AI solution.

Panera Bread’s latest technology innovation is artificial intelligence (AI)-enhanced drive-thru ordering.

The fast-casual restaurant chain is testing AI technology from OpenCity in drive-thru lanes at select stores in the greater Rochester, N.Y. area. The pilot stores, in Greece and Webster, N.Y., have implemented OpenCity’s proprietary voice AI ordering technology, called “Tori”, for drive-thru orders,

Tori is installed at these select locations and takes customer orders as normal at the drive-thru speaker, with Panera associates on standby to assist if needed to troubleshoot any issues. Drive-thru customers can pull up to the Panera drive-thru, place their order as usual with assistance from Tori, and pay a Panera associate at the drive-thru window.

The retailer hopes the addition of this technology at the drive-thru will help to cut down wait times, improve order accuracy, and allow associates to focus on preparing customer orders.

“At Panera, improving our customer 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,” said Debbie Roberts, executive VP and COO, Panera Bread. “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.”

Panera goes high-tech in the store

Panera Bread has implemented several solutions intended to streamline store operations in the past year. In November 2021, the retailer opened its first location featuring its next-gen design that includes enhanced digital, personalized options such as contactless dine-in and delivery, updated ordering kiosks, automatic loyalty identification, and a fully digitized menu both in-cafe and in drive-thru. 

Panera’s contactless ordering service allows customers who choose a fully contactless experience to order their meal from their own phone for dine-in, rapid pickup or drive-thru or delivery. Once the order is made, customers are notified via mobile notifications when their food is ready, minimalizing interaction with cashiers, kiosks, paper receipts or pagers.

[Read more: First Look: Panera Bread unveils next-gen restaurant]

Another new store concept, Panera To Go,” was introduced in June 2022. The digital-only store features a reduced front of house area where customers and delivery drivers can pick up orders from rapid pick-up and delivery shelves.

Panera is also the first retailer to evaluate and test the new Miso Robotics CookRight Coffee robotic coffee monitoring solution. The artificial intelligence (AI)-based technology is designed to monitor key coffee metrics such as volume, temperature and time data, and combine these with predictive analytics to help ensure properly served coffee and more efficient employee performance.

The retailer specifically intends to leverage CookRight Coffee to support its “Unlimited Sip Club” subscription plan, which lets members drink unlimited coffee and tea for $8.99/month.

As of July 26, 2022, there were 2,116 stores, company and franchise, in 48 states and in Ontario, Canada, operating under the Panera Bread or Saint Louis Bread Co. names. Panera Bread is part of Panera Brands, a U.S.-based fast casual restaurant company comprised of Panera Bread, Caribou Coffee, and Einstein Bros. Bagels.