New building designs with AI are being tested at the Panera Bread drive-thru.

After Opening Digital Order-Only Locales in Chicago, Panera Keeps Experimenting

Panera Bread is not the first place one might think of when it comes to AI and its uses. But it is joining most other fast food businesses in using AI to tighten their service areas. But reports that Panera is leaning into AI in a big way.

Starting Monday, drive-thru/take-out customers at two Panera Bread locations in upstate New York will have their orders taken by a computer in a test of 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. As mentioned, many of the major food services are adding AI in ways most of us never thought of. Like monitoring the heat and flavor of their fast food coffee.

For example, McDonald’s has also been working to automate its drive-thru lane, announcing a partnership last year with IBM to work toward that goal. Yum Brands’ Taco Bell and Restaurant Brands International’s Burger King have been building double drive-thru lanes at some locations to allow customers to pick up their digital orders more quickly.

At Panera, customers will interact with an AI algorithm called “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-throughs.

And with the AI taking your sandwich order, odds are you won’t get home and find you are missing a sandwich.