Panera Bread, Popeyes Test AI Bots at the Drive-Thru to Boost Sales

Panera Bread is called a restaurant pioneer when it comes to expertise.
The chain is working with tech startup OpenCity to take a look at voice bot ordering at the drive-thru.
OpenCity, which additionally works with Popeyes, says AI-powered bots can enhance accuracy and velocity. 

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In 2019, Nick Belsito, CEO of meals tech startup OpenCity, mentioned many restaurant operators’ eyes would glaze over when he talked about his firm’s synthetic intelligence software program at meals conferences.Before the pandemic, OpenCity used voice AI expertise to automate restaurant reservation orders. “When I discussed A.I. earlier than the pandemic, individuals seemed at me like I used to be E.T. What is that this other-worldly factor?” Belsito mentioned.With indoor eating shut down at the onset of the 2020 pandemic, the want for reservations went kaput whereas supply and drive-thru orders surged. So Belsito shifted OpenCity’s enterprise mannequin. 

The startup now automates orders at the drive-thru utilizing an AI-powered bot named Tori.  The adoption of Tori is selecting up steam for the Boston-based startup. Last week, fast-casual large Panera Bread started testing OpenCity’s AI-powered tech at two upstate New York eating places. Panera joins a Popeyes’ franchise restaurant in Louisiana, which began piloting Tori in late April. Belsito mentioned OpenCity is benefiting from a “distinctive” area with room to enhance order accuracy and gross sales at the drive-thru, the place gross sales signify about 75% of income for quick–meals eating places.”This is core expertise that is going to be very important to the way forward for eating places,” he mentioned.

The proprietor of the Popeyes restaurant in Louisiana, David Damato, mentioned his firm, High Noon Restaurant Group, has seen good outcomes, up to now. Speed of service has elevated by 20% and order accuracy is at practically 100%.The restaurant’s drink gross sales have elevated by 150% as a result of Tori routinely upsells high-margin objects akin to soda fountain drinks, sides, and desserts.Those stats captured the consideration of Panera Bread.Raj Anbalagan, senior vice chairman of digital and expertise innovation, mentioned Panera is hoping automation will elevate the visitor expertise by enhancing accuracy and velocity at the drive-thru lane.

“There are a large number of how you are able to do it. And this was one in all the ways in which we felt that we might take a look at to see if there’s a true unlock,” Anbalagan informed Insider in a current interview. Anbalagan has been pushing innovation for years at Panera. He helped the model launch digital ordering at the chain in 2014 by including kiosks in the eating room and cell orders scheduled by the chain’s app. Panera is understood for constructing its tech stack in-house.Still, for this experiment, Anbalagan mentioned it was higher to leverage OpenCity’s tech “moderately than investing and constructing on our personal for the time being,” he informed Insider. 

Specifically, Anbalagan mentioned he was trying to achieve a 5-10% enchancment in velocity of service utilizing Tori.He additionally hopes the experiential facet of Tori will “delight our visitor,” he mentioned.Damato bolstered that Tori has been a “true game-changer” for the restaurant. “The company are having enjoyable, and I used to be shocked at how shortly Tori discovered the Louisiana accent,” he mentioned in a press release. “Our group members are loving Tori, too, because it reduces office stress since they’ll concentrate on serving the visitor quicker whereas Tori is taking the order.”

Today, tons of of eating places throughout the US are utilizing AI-powered bots to take cellphone and drive-thru orders together with Chipotle, Fazoli’s, and Domino’s. Some are utilizing OpenCity rivals akin to Valyant AI and ConverseNow. Belsito mentioned, “Covid has been phenomenal” in altering how the restaurant business thinks about expertise.  “There’s been an amazing shift. The restaurant area has seen a change in the guard. They notice expertise may be their pal,” Belsito mentioned. OpenCity has raised $8 million and works with 5 completely different manufacturers in about eight states. Backers embody Composite Ventures and NXT Ventures.  

“I count on to be in hundreds of eating places subsequent 12 months,” Belsito mentioned.

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