-KH News Desk
At the start of the 2020 pandemic, indoor dining was shut down, negating the need for reservations while dramatically increasing drive-thru and delivery business. OpenCity changed its business strategy as a result. The business now uses Tori, an AI-powered bot, to process orders at the drive-through.
In 2019, Nick Belsito, CEO of food technology firm OpenCity, claimed that when he discussed his company’s artificial intelligence software at food conferences, many restaurant managers’ eyes would glaze over. Prior to the pandemic, OpenCity automated restaurant reservation requests using voice artificial intelligence technologies.
“When I mentioned A.I. before the pandemic, people looked at me like I was E.T. What is this other-worldly thing?” Belsito said.
The Boston-based startup’s use of Tori is gaining momentum. The fast-casual giant Panera Bread started experimenting with OpenCity’s AI technology at two of its locations in upstate New York last week. Panera joins a Louisiana Popeyes’ franchise restaurant that began testing Tori in late April.
According to Belsito, OpenCity is utilizing a “unique” area with space to increase order accuracy and sales through the drive-thru, where sales account for around 75% of a fast-food restaurant’s income.
“This is core technology that’s going to be vital to the future of restaurants,” he said. David Damato, the proprietor of the Louisiana-based Popeyes restaurant, claimed that his High Noon Restaurant Group business has so far had success. Order accuracy is at about 100% and service speed has enhanced by 20%.
Because Tori automatically upsells high-margin goods like soda fountain drinks, sides, and desserts, the restaurant’s drink sales have soared by 150%.
Damato reinforced that Tori has been a “true game-changer” for the restaurant.
“The guests are having fun, and I was shocked at how quickly Tori learned the Louisiana accent,” he said in a statement. “Our team members are loving Tori, too, as it reduces workplace stress since they can focus on serving the guest faster while Tori is taking the order.”
Hundreds of businesses in the US are now taking phone and drive-thru orders using AI-powered bots, including Chipotle, Fazoli’s, and Domino’s. Some people use competitors to OpenCity like Valyant AI and Converse Now. Covid, according to Belsito, “has been phenomenal” in transforming how the restaurant business views technology.
“There’s been a tremendous shift. The restaurant space has seen a change in the guard. They realize technology can be their friend,” Belsito said. “I expect to be in thousands of restaurants next year.” With $8 million in funding, OpenCity collaborates with five distinct companies throughout around eight states. NXT Ventures and Composite Ventures are among the sponsors.