ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Extra mayo? Side of fries? Chips 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 a Panera Bread in Webster, New York, Tori is already taking orders. (If you want to hear Tori in action, see the attached video at the top of the article.)
OpenCity’s CEO Nick Belsito said he was ready to debut Tori at drive-thru restaurants after the peak of COVID-19 led to a worker shortage.
“These are essential businesses, they [drive-thrus] were the only restaurant styles open during COVID to feed people. And today, when you look at the labor market, where historic unemployment lows and the restaurant industry are hit the hardest. The restaurant industry from a labor standpoint has been hit really hard,” Belsito said.
Tori is able to take the customer’s order, enter it into the register, and pass it to the kitchen. Employees can listen in while they are able to prioritize other tasks in the kitchen.
Belsito said Tori differs from the artificial intelligence that is heard when calling customer support lines because it is able to have cognizant and natural conversations with the consumer.
“I talk to Tori just like I would talk to a human employee, place an order, I pull around and I get my food,” Belsito said. “It’s an identical experience, hopefully, smoother.”
Tori is able to handle more than the average order, according to Belsito. The technology is able to accommodate those with speech disabilities, accents, and multiple languages. And if there is an order that Tori cannot complete successfully, the staff at the drive-thru can jump in.
“We don’t want to give you the wrong food. If Tori doesn’t know, we ask the employee to jump in to assist. … The employee has free rein to talk with the guests at any time because they’re hearing the full conversation,” Belsito said.
Belsito said those who normally get anxious when ordering at the drive-thru may feel a sense of comfort and relief when speaking to Tori, rather than a human employee.
Belsito said he often gets the question: Is this taking jobs away from people who need them?
“When you’re talking about the labor market, it’s at the historic all-time low. When you look at the rest of the issue, they’re hit the hardest out of anyone at a significant multiplier around other industries,” Belsito said. “So as a coworker, you have less people to help you out. And it’s making my job more stressful as a general manager or as an owner, you have to make some tough decisions. … So, it’s really hard to take away a job for a role that you can’t hire for.”
Tori is taking orders at restaurants nationwide, including some locations of Panera Bread, Hardee’s and more.