Panera Lets Customers Choose What to Pay

Panera Lets Customers Choose What to Pay

Food & Drink

Panera Lets Customers Choose What to Pay

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By Cari Martens

The London restaurant Little Bay has done it. The British rock band Radiohead did it with its most recent studio album. Now Panera Bread is bringing the concept to a store in America’s heartland.

The national bakery and restaurant chain is allowing customers in one of its new units to choose what they want to pay.

Panera this week launched a new nonprofit store in the St. Louis, Mo., area which has the same menu as the rest of the chain’s 1400 operations. But the menu items are missing a key element: the prices.

Customers are asked to donate what they want to pay for their order, whether it’s the full ‘suggested” price, 10¢, or $100 if they’re feeling generous. It all goes into the donation jar.

The new store, in the upscale Clayton neighborhood, is the first of what Panera hopes will be many just like it across the U.S. The pilot restaurant is run by a nonprofit foundation, and if it can succeed financially, Panera will bring the model to other stores within a few months. The company hopes to eventually have one such store in each community where it operates.

Everything hinges on how Panera’s patrons respond to the sign hanging above the deli counter that reads: ‘Take what you need, leave your fair share.’ According to initial reports from cashiers, most customers are paying full price, with some taking a little discount and a few paying about half-price.

This first location has the name St. Louis Bread Co. Cares – the chain’s former name (which it still goes by in its hometown). Panera is using its nonprofit foundation to support the restaurant and any future locations. The foundation will pay the new restaurant’s bills, including staff salaries, rent and food costs. At the end of each month, the foundation will count up the donations to see if they cover food costs. The Panera parent company won’t bear losses if the experiment fails.

This community outreach effort will be quite interesting to watch, especially with unemployment still high, and people looking for bargains wherever they can find them. Here’s hoping the store is a success.

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