ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Extra mayo? Side of fries? Chips instead of bread? “Tori” can handle all of your fast-food accommodations.
“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 the Webster Panera Bread, Tori is already taking orders, and we put her to the test. If you want to hear Tori in action, see the attached video at the top of the article.
OpenCity’s CEO Nick Belsito has worked in the restaurant world for nearly 25 years, taking the dive into restaurant technology almost a decade ago. He was ready to debut Tori at drive-thru restaurants after the peak of COVID-19 led to a lack of employees, and caused restaurants to struggle with staying open.
“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, as well as communicate it to the kitchen all on her own — with employees able to listen in while they now are able to prioritize other tasks in the kitchen. Belsito says Tori differs from the artificial intelligence that is heard when calling customer support lines because she 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 triggers right away to take your order. From an employee standpoint, I can hear everything Tori is saying, I can hear everything that the guest is saying, so I can start multitasking. I don’t have to punch in every single order so I can save my time as an employee. I can deal with the guests in front of me to check them out. I can start bagging, I can check the bag to make sure everything is accurate in there. Tori asks clarifying questions a lot of times around certain things. So, if you’re in the kitchen and you have a ceiling speaker, I can hear as well. Tori’s asking the guests what the guest is saying. So, it keeps everybody in the back of the house or the kitchen side on the same page with exactly what’s going on.”
Tori is able to handle more than the average order, according to Belsito. She 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 quickly jump in and maintain their customer’s satisfaction.
“We don’t want to give you the wrong food. If Tori doesn’t know, we ask the employee to jump into assist. Tori is able to tell the employee, Hey, jump in and can you help complete the order here? The employee has free reign to talk with the guests at any time because they’re hearing the full conversation,” Belsito said. “With accents and languages. The beauty of an AI is we train Tori, we train our models on a phenomenal range of accents. In the deep south in Louisiana, we’re up in New York, which is a different pace of speech, you have tonal accents. You have Latin based accents. Many things from dialect and originality, we do a phenomenal job there.”
In addition to accents and languages, Belsito said those who normally get anxious when ordering at the drive thru feel a sense of comfort and relief when speaking to Tori, rather than a human employee.
“Humans struggle with them ordering and the stress and anxiety they had when they heard Tori, thinking If a human can’t hear it, can Tori even handle my order? and Tori handled it flawlessly and the gentleman was in tears, because it was the first time he felt like a person in America talking to get their food and now he goes there so he doesn’t have to stress out on placing that order,” Belsito said.
Belsito argues the question that is raised from bringing an artificial intelligence like Tori in, 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. Are we going to open our drive thru today? Are we going to open the dining room? They’re making really hard decisions that impact the bottom line, which also impacts how they can provide food and service to their customers. So, it’s really hard to take away a job for a role that you can’t hire for. What we’re doing this supplement in helping them right helping the employee be a person again, helping the employee do their job better helping that store stay open.”
Tori is ready to take orders at restaurants nationwide, including Panera Bread, Hardee’s, and more.