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Panera Bread targets growth in urban markets with new digitally driven formats

Panera Bread Go
The Panera To Go format has no dine-in seating.

Panera Bread is expanding into urban markets and non-traditional settings with a streamlined store model.

With digital now accounting for 50% of its total sales, the fast-casual brand is rolling out two new digitally driven formats. The formats include the new Panera To Go concept, which, following a successful test in Chicago earlier this year, will open in Manhattan’s Union Square neighborhood in December.

At approximately 1,000 sq. ft., Panera To Go is designed for off-premise dining, with no dine-in seating. The space is dedicated to pick-up and delivery shelves where customers and delivery drivers can easily pick up orders.

With less front-of-house duties and simplified operations, Panera To Go employees can focus on crafting freshly prepared meals to meet the needs of a guest on-the-go, the company said.

New Urban Format
Panera has also unveiled an updated urban format, which opened in the 46-story Hearst Tower in New York City. At about 2,000 sq. ft., the format features a 40% smaller footprint than a traditional Panera restaurant and features updated ordering kiosks, a fully digitized menu and a new tracking screen providing more detailed order status.

Designed with only limited counter seating, the bulk of the space is geared toward providing a fast pick-up experience, with dedicated shelves for pick-up and to-go orders.  It is also the first Panera bakery-cafe that fully incorporates the new Panera brand world design, featuring modern and inviting new art, and updated design touches and color palette.

The two New York locations are the first of several new Panera bakery-cafes planned for expansion in urban markets in the next year, along with a series of non-traditional locations in settings like hospitals and universities.

“At Panera, our innovation has always been rooted in the guest and associate experience, how we can reduce friction, drive convenience and bring Panera to new places where we know the demand is high for the freshly-prepared food we serve,” said Eduardo Luz, chief brand & concept officer, Panera Bread. “With a flexible portfolio of cafe designs, we’re now able to bring Panera anywhere, from suburban cafes with double drive-thrus, to a digital-only Panera To Go and everything in between.”

Digital Capabilities
Panera said its digital capabilities go beyond the format of the bakery-cafe, allowing for a differentiated and personalized guest experience and reduced friction for the bakery cafe associates. For the customers, the company has intentionally taken technology beyond the point of purchase, from contactless-dine in options, to a digitized order status board, to reorder and recommendation functions in the app.

For associates, AI technology is used to auto reorder ingredients based on sales to labor scheduling and more.

Panera added that it continues to test AI technology across multiple areas of the bakery-cafe. Earlier this year, it began testing Miso Robotics’ automated coffee brewing system, as it rolled out its “Unlimited Sip Club” subscription program. Future iterations of the new urban format plan to test new tap-and-go technology for an even more seamless experience for Unlimited Sip Club members

More recently Panera began testing OpenCity’s proprietary voice AI ordering technology, called “Tori,” for drive-thru orders, with the goal of maximizing efficiency and increasing speed of orders.

As of November 3, 2022, there were 2,114 bakery-cafes, company and franchise, in 48 states and in Ontario, Canada, operating under the Panera Bread or Saint Louis Bread Co. banners. Panera Bread is part of Panera Brands, one of the largest fast-casual restaurant companies in the U.S., comprised of Panera Bread, Caribou Coffee and Einstein Bros. Bagels.

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