scorecardPanera Bread is letting app-users skip the order queue
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Panera Bread is letting app-users skip the order queue

Grace Dean   

Panera Bread is letting app-users skip the order queue
Retail3 min read
Panera has rolled out Contactless Dine-In.    Panera Bread
  • Panera has rolled out a new app feature that lets you order from your phone when you dine in.
  • It alerts you when your meal is ready, too, so you can bag a table rather than waiting in line.

Panera Bread is letting customers skip the line when they order in store – if they use the company's app.

The fast-casual chain Tuesday rolled out Contactless Dine-In, which allows diners to order on Panera's app when they arrive in the store and bag a table rather than waiting in line to order and to collect their food.

Customers who have the app and opt in to the new feature will get a push notification when they arrive in store, which directs them to the app where they can place orders. They can then find a seat at a table and get an app notification, text, or email when their food and beverages are ready to collect from the pick-up counter.

And customers can follow the status of their order in real-time on the app, too.

George Hanson, Panera's chief digital officer, told Insider that this means that customers don't have to wait in line to order food or to collect their meal.

Hanson said that the move was designed to improve customers' experiences, and was not a response to sectoral labor shortages.

"This is not a cost savings measure at all," he said. "This is really about the guest."

Record numbers of Americans quit their jobs in 2021, fueling a huge labor shortage that hit the restaurant industry especially hard. Some have adapted their operations to their smaller workforces, like cutting hours, closing their dining rooms, or chopping their menus.

Panera's app feature gives customers more choice over how they place their orders and allows them to prioritize both convenience and contactless service, Hanson said. Customers don't have to order at the counter or use a digital kiosk if they don't want to, he added.

"We're ordering everything on our phone," Hanson said. "The intent of this is bringing the best of our off-premise digital ordering experience into the cafe."

Hanson said that a lot of customers used Panera's digital-order services before the pandemic but that this had "exploded" since 2020. Despite this, customers still valued its dining rooms, he said.

Improving customers' experiences was at the center of the feature's rollout, he said. But the push to app ordering has a benefit for the company's operations, too: It frees up staff time that can instead be allocated to higher-value activities rather than taking orders at the counter, Hanson said.

The app also updates product availability in real-time, too.

Hanson said that Panera had rolled out the app-order feature to nearly all stores on Tuesday and that it had got a "very good" response from customers so far.

Hanson said it had taken around a year to develop and pilot, which Panera had accelerated due to the spike in coronavirus cases in the winter.

"The last couple of years have been a double down on expanding our digital experience capabilities and transformation, and it's largely been focused on off-premise delivery, pickup, launching curbside, and all of those will continue to be incredibly important, but this represents a pivot into the digitally-enabled cafe," he said.

Panera Bread restaurant revamp
Panera is rolling out an overhauled design for all its new stores.      Panera Bread

This isn't the only investment that Panera is making in bricks-and-mortar dining. The chain is also rolling out an overhauled design for all its new stores, which are 20% smaller than current cafes and have dual-lane drive-thrus, open bakery ovens, and digital menu boards.

Hanson said that many people used Panera as a place to meet in person. "And as long as that continues to be important to our guests, we're gonna continue to innovate on that dine-in experience as well."