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  • 02.09.15

Panera Bread

For using tech to improve everything—including the food.

Panera Bread

Panera is in a crowded category called “quick service” that has suddenly found digital religion: Competing players like Starbucks and Pizza Hut, say, are rolling out ordering technology. But Panera leads them all with a full reboot called Panera 2.0, which includes far-reaching revisions to how customers dine in and out, how food is prepared, and how it’s delivered. The change began last year, and is currently being rolled out across all its 1,800 U.S. restaurants—and boosts sales and traffic so much that Panera has to invest 35 more hours a week in labor for each upgraded cafe.

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It’s a process Panera began planning for in 2011. “From security to our network bandwidth to our processing speeds to our resiliency and recoverability, we’ve made huge investments in the back end,” says Blaine Hurst, EVP of Technology and Transformation. The core of Panera 2.0 happens in one of two places: either on the Panera app on a customer’s own mobile device, or at a kiosk of tablets in the restaurant. On the app, to-go users can place a mobile order up to five days in advance and pick up food from a separate shelf in the restaurant, thereby skipping the line. Or dine-in users can order on their phone from their table (or at the kiosk), and food will be delivered to them.

  1. Order in advance: Place an order via app up to five days in advance, then grab the food from a designated shelf.
  2. Food finds you: An RFID system identifies where diners are seated, so employees can easily deliver food to them.
  3. Make a meal: Order at kiosks (or Panera’s app), where food is customizable and preferences are stored.

Illustration: Chris Philpot

Customers can customize dishes as they order, and the system will remember users’ favorites—so long as they’re enrolled in the restaurant’s digital loyalty program, MyPanera. Response is strong: Already, about 50% of all transactions happen through the program. And all this increased customization has meant changes in the kitchen. New checkpoints were built into the food-making process—moments when chefs have to check that they’re fulfilling the order properly, so that the actual food is made as seamlessly as it’s ordered.

[Photo: courtesy of Panera Bread]

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