ROCHESTER, NY (LPL/WROC) — Extra mayonnaise? Served with french fries? French fries instead of bread? Tori can help with that.
Tori, an artificial intelligence (AI) launched by OpenCity, a Boston-based company, is described as the restaurant industry’s first conversational robot voice in the drive-thru.
At Panera Bread in Webster, New York, Tori is already taking orders. (If you’d like to hear Tori in action, check out the video attached at the top of the article.)
OpenCity CEO Nick Belsito said he was ready to debut Tori in drive-thru restaurants after the COVID-19 spike led to a worker shortage.
“These are essential businesses, they [drive-thrus] they were the only restaurant styles open during COVID to feed people. And today, when you look at the job market, where unemployment is at record lows, and the restaurant industry is taking the brunt of it. The restaurant industry from a labor point of view has been hit hard,” said Belsito.
Tori can take the customer’s order, enter it into the register, and pass it on to the kitchen. Employees can listen while they can prioritize other tasks in the kitchen.
Belsito said Tori differs from the artificial intelligence you hear when calling customer service lines because she can have mindful, natural conversations with the consumer.
“I talk to Tori like I would talk to a human employee, place an order, stop by and get my food,” Belsito said. “It’s an identical experience, hopefully more seamless.”
Tori can handle more than the average order, according to Belsito. The technology can be adapted for people with speech disabilities, accents, and multiple languages. And if there’s an order that Tori can’t complete successfully, the drive-thru staff can step in.
“We don’t want to give him the wrong food. If Tori doesn’t know, we ask the clerk to jump in to help. … The employee has free rein to speak to the guests at any time because they are listening to the entire conversation,” Belsito said.
Belsito said those who normally get anxious when ordering from the drive-thru can feel a sense of comfort and relief when they talk to Tori, rather than a human employee.
Belsito said she is often asked the question: Is this taking jobs away from people who need them?
“When you talk about the labor market, it is at its lowest point ever. When you look at the rest of the problem, they are the ones most affected by a significant multiplier in other industries,” Belsito said. “So as a coworker, you have fewer people to help you. And it’s making my job more stressful as a general manager or owner, you have to make some tough decisions. … So, it’s really hard to take a job away for a position that you can’t hire for.”
Tori is taking orders at restaurants across the country, including some Panera Bread locations, Hardee’s and more.