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First Look: Panera Bread unveils next-gen restaurant

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Panera Bread is doubling down on drive-thru without neglecting dine-in.

The fast-casual chain has opened its first location featuring its next-gen design, in Ballwin, Mo., just outside of its St. Louis hometown. The restaurant features an updated dine-in experience centered around Panera’s signature fireplace along with enhanced digital, personalized options, dual drive-thru access and a new brand identity.

“Our new bakery-cafe is designed with the best of what makes Panera unique – a warm, inviting environment that delights our guests, and the smell of freshly baked bread coupled with tech-enabled convenience,” said Eduardo Luz, chief brand and concept officer, Panera Bread.

Panera Bread is part of Panera Brands. Earlier this month, the company said it was preparing to go public through an initial public offering. As part of the deal, famed restaurateur Danny Meyer will also invest directly in Panera Brands and become lead independent director of the board.

Panera’s ovens are prominent in the new concept, which was done in collaboration with brand design agency ChangeUp. The ovens are no longer hidden away. Instead, they are in full view of customers “so they can fully immerse themselves in the experience of baking happening throughout the day,” the company stated.

The new concept features a double-lane drive thru, with one lane specifically for the brand’s rapid pickup service. Digital innovations include contactless dine-in and delivery, updated ordering kiosks, automatic loyalty identification, and a fully digitized menu both in-cafe and in drive-thru. 

Panera’s new contactless ordering service allows customers who choose a fully contactless experience to order their meal from their own phone for dine-in, rapid pickup or drive-thru or delivery. Once the order is made, customers are notified via mobile notifications when their food is ready, minimalizing interaction with cashiers, kiosks, paper receipts or pagers.

The design also introduces an updated Panera Bread logo and brand identity. The refreshed Panera “Mother Bread” logo is a nod to Panera Bread’s more than 30-year-old sourdough starter from which all of its sourdough bread is still made today.

Customer convenience is a high priority of the new design, from deploying clear and concise wayfinding on the exterior of the cafe to refining how the customer navigates throughout the interior to optimizing the ordering and pick-up experience.

“We undertook the development of the next generation Panera bakery-cafe with a relentless focus on guest experience,” said Rob Sopkin, senior VP, chief development officer, Panera Bread. “Every step of the guest journey was scrutinized to find ways to make it more intuitive and convenient, and the result represents the very best of our design and development teams.” 

As of Sept. 28, 2021, there were 2,120 bakery-cafes in 48 states, Washington, DC, and Ontario, Canada, operating under the Panera Bread or Saint Louis Bread Co. banners. Panera Bread is part of Panera Brands, comprised of Panera Bread, Caribou Coffee and Einstein Bros. Bagels.

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