Drive-thru customers at two Panera Bread locations in upstate New York will have their orders taken by a computer in a test of artificial intelligence (AI) technology’s accuracy and ability to decrease service times.
The sandwich chain is the latest restaurant company to invest in potential improvements to the drive-thru experience. A surge in drive-thru ordering during the Covid pandemic led to long lines of cars wrapped around restaurants, pushing chains to focus on speed of service and order accuracy.
McDonald’s has also been working to automate its drive-thru lane, announcing a partnership last year with IBM to work toward that goal. Taco Bell and Burger King have been building double drive-thru lanes at some locations to allow customers to pick up their digital orders more quickly.
Panera Bread is using voice-ordering technology called Tori. Customers will interact with Tori when they pull up to the drive-thru speaker. Panera employees will be on standby to offer assistance and to take payment for orders.
The test will be used to evaluate if Tori should be expanded to more Panera restaurants, Panera’s operating chief, Debbie Roberts, said in a statement. About 45% of Panera’s more than 2,000 locations have drive-thru lanes.