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06/10/2022

Panera debuts digitally-focused store model

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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panera to go
Panera To Go is a digital-only store for rapid pick-up and delivery orders. (Graphic: Business Wire)

Panera is introducing another new store concept – this one is centered on fulfilling digital orders.

The fast-casual restaurant chain has opened the first of three planned “Panera To Go” pilot stores. Based in Chicago, the digital-only store features a reduced front of house area where customers and delivery drivers can pick up orders from rapid pick-up and delivery shelves.

Designed for densely populated areas that cannot accommodate a dine-in store, the Panera To Go format does not offer any seating. The company plans to open two additional Panera To Go cafes in California and Washington D.C. later in 2022, and will also evaluate adding kiosk and catering orders to the new format in the future.

Ordering and payment for Panera To Go orders are only available via Panera’s e-commerce site or on the Panera app. Panera intends to service all dayparts including breakfast, as applicable, at its Panera To Go locations.

Panera provides variety of customer touchpoints

Panera is introducing its latest new store concept following the November 2021 rollout of a next-gen store design that focuses heavily on drive-thru while also offering dine-in service and fulfilling delivery orders.

Panera launched its rapid pick-up service nationally in 2016, enabling customers to order ahead and pick up their items on a shelf in the dining room. In 2020, the company launched a geofence-enabled curbside pickup service that enables customers to have digital orders delivered directly to their car.

For those who have opted-in, a Panera employee brings the order out to the car without any action needed by the customer. Those who don't opt-in to the service tap ''I'm here'' in the MyPanera app or order confirmation email upon arrival. 

Recently, Panera has also been actively testing ghost kitchens, with five currently operational nationwide and more planned to open this year. The company also now offers a contactless dine-in service designed to help customers avoid lines or shared devices like kiosks or pagers. MyPanera rewards program members and customers who have push notifications enabled on the Panera mobile app will be alerted of this new service as soon as they step into the store.

Upon opening the app, customers can select the dine-in option to place a contactless dine-in order and the cafe will receive the order. Once ready, the customer receives an email and, if opted in, can also choose to receive a text and/or push notification, and the food is served plated at the Panera pick-up counter.

“Panera To Go is another way we can make our customers’ lives easier through digital convenience, which is always at the heart of what we do,” said George Hanson, chief digital officer, Panera Bread. “We are already leaders in providing our customer with an exceptional digital experience and adapted our digital channels to provide our customer even more options in the Panera To Go format.”

As of March 29, 2022, there were 2,117 stores in 48 U.S. states and in Ontario, Canada, operating under the Panera Bread or Saint Louis Bread Co. names. Panera Bread is part of Panera Brands, a U.S.-based fast casual restaurant company comprised of Panera Bread, Caribou Coffee, and Einstein Bros. Bagels.