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America's Largest Bakery Chain Is Testing a New Way To Place Orders

Did someone say shorter wait times?

One speedy fast-casual chain is about to get even faster. Less than a year after unveiling its "next-generation" restaurant prototype, Panera is rolling out yet another innovation.

The bakery cafe chain announced that it is currently testing OpenCity's AI-powered voice-ordering technology, called Tori, at two drive-thru locations in the greater Rochester, N.Y. area—one in Greece and another in Webster.

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To place an order, customers can simply pull up to the drive-thru speaker and speak to Tori. Panera employees will be available to assist as needed and to take payments for the orders.

According to the company, the implementation of the new ordering technology aims to reduce wait times, streamline order accuracy, and help employees focus on food preparation.

"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," Debbie Roberts, EVP and Chief Operating Officer of Panera Bread, said in a statement.

The deployment of Tori is one of several tech-forward moves Panera has made in recent months. In June, the bakery chain opened its first digital-only takeout location, Panera To-Go, on Chicago's North Side. The store does not have a dining room, and three other locations are planned for Washington D.C. and California.

In April, Panera revealed that two of its restaurants will be testing Miso Robotics' CookRight Coffee Technology, which uses artificial intelligence to monitor coffee volume, temperature, brewing time, and customer demand.

Panera isn't the only fast-food chain to tap into the potential of voice ordering. In June of 2021, McDonald's began testing voice recognition systems at 24 locations in the Chicago area. While McDonald's hasn't disclosed whether this technology will be launching nationally, restaurant industry analyst Peter Saleh told QSR Magazine that he expects voice ordering systems to "continue to evolve and, perhaps be ready for broader adoption later in the year."

Brianna Ruback
Brianna is a staff writer at Eat This, Not That! She attended Ithaca College, where she graduated with a degree in Journalism and a minor in Communication Studies. Read more about Brianna