Industry News | October 5, 2017 | By Danny Klein | QSR Exclusive Brief

Panera's Next Big Digital Move: Voice-Activated Ordering

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Voice-activated ordering has become a trendy option in limited service lately. Brands like Wingstop, Domino’s, Pizza Hut, and others have jumped on board. Read more about the trend here.

Google Assistant, however, hasn’t held a major role in the conversation to date. Panera Bread changed that late Thursday when it announced it was becoming one of the first national concepts to offer the ability to order via voice for delivery and Rapid Pick-Up with the Google Assistant on their mobile devices.

Currently, My Panera members in St. Louis and Silicon Valley participating locations are eligible to place and pay for their orders using the virtual personal assistant platform. The fast casual chain expects the rollout to go national by the end of 2017.

Guests can tell Google Assistant, “OK Google, ask Panera for delivery,” or “OK Google, talk to Panera.” The Panera app will then pop up and show users the menu. It will also suggest past items based on history and take the guest through the menu. You can then pay from saved wallet information.

This could eventually represent a serious boon to Panera’s bottom line. The brand’s My Panera loyalty program has more than 27 million members signed up and the company recently reported that 1.3 million digital orders were being placed per week at Panera. In June, it said digital sales, including mobile, web, and kiosk surpassed $1 billion on an annualized basis, with the number expected to double in 2019.

“With more than 1.3 Million digital orders placed a week at Panera, there is a clear demand for voice-activated ordering methods, and this integration with Google is a step towards an even better guest experience,” said Ron Shaich, Panera’s founder, chairman, and CEO, in a statement.

About 30 percent of total company-wide sales are digital at this point, Panera said. Since it launched Panera 2.0 in 2014, the chain has grown with Rapid Pick-Up, Fast Lane Kiosks, Catering, and Delivery.

“Voice-activated ordering powered by artificial intelligence is the future. We know the industry is in its infancy,” said Blaine Hurst, Panera’s president,in a statement. “While we know we still have a lot to learn, we’re proud to develop, test and refine this capability in partnership with Google. In the long run, the ease and convenience will be meaningful to our guests.  In fact, placing a voice-activated order in many cases is more than 80 percent faster than a traditional app order.”

Panera’s delivery program, which it announced a commitment of 10,000 new employees to in April, will be onboarded. The service offers lunch and dinner for as little as a $5 menu purchase, plus a $3 delivery fee in most locations.