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06/13/2022

Panera Opens Digital-Only Restaurant

As of the end of 2021, 81% of Panera’s sales were via one of Panera’s off-premise channels.
Anna Wolfe
Senior Editor - Restaurants
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Panera Bread has opened its first Panera To Go, a new Panera Bread concept that is dedicated to digital ordering for off-premises orders.

The Chicago-based restaurant is the first of three Panera To Go test locations scheduled to open this year. The digital-only bakery-cafe has a reduced front of house where guests and delivery drivers can easily pick up orders from Rapid Pick-Up and Delivery shelves. Its a concept that's ideal for densely populated areas that cannot accommodate a full-sized location; Panera To Go is designed to meet the demand in these areas for easy off-premise options.

Off Premises is Here to Stay

Panerea's to-go concept comes on the scene as off-premises dining options are becoming essential to consumers' lifestyles. 

In fact, 54 percent of adults say purchasing takeout or delivery food is essential to the way they live, including 72% of millennials and 66% of Gen Z adults, according to the National Restaurant Association's 2022 State of the Restaurant Industry report.

Like many other brands, Panera is already seeing sustained demand for off-premises dining. As of the end of 2021, 81% of Panera’s sales were via one of Panera’s off-premise channels including delivery, pick-up, drive-thru and catering, according to the company.  The Panera To Go front of house does not offer any seating and is currently testing delivery and pickup on shelves that guests and delivery drivers can easily access. With less front-of-house duties and simplified operations, Panera To Go associates are solely focused on meeting the unique needs of a guest on-the-go. Panera plans to open two additional Panera To Go cafes in California and Washington D.C. this year, and will also evaluate adding in Kiosk and Catering orders to the new format in the future. 

“We strive to make it easy for our guests to access Panera’s chef-curated menu, in the most convenient way. Panera To Go creates yet another access point for our guests, via Rapid Pick-Up or Delivery, in locations where Panera has not historically operated,” said Eduardo Luz, Chief Brand & Concept Officer, Panera Bread. “We are excited to launch into more trade areas, where we know people are craving for what Panera offers—freshly prepared delicious dishes, crafted by our chefs and bakers, using clean ingredients.”

Driving Innovation

As of the end of 2021, 44% of Panera bakery-cafes included a drive-thru, and the company has continually innovated to add new access points in response to the growing demand for off-premise dining.

75% of consumers prefer to order delivery direct from the restaurant, according to HT's 2021 Customer Engagement Technology Study.

Panera launched Rapid Pick-Up nationally in 2016, giving guests the convenience to order ahead and pick up their freshly prepared order on a convenient shelf in the dining room. In 2020, the company launched Panera Curbside, a geofence-enabled service that allows guests to easily get their favorite Panera Bread meals delivered directly to their car. The new Panera Next-Gen bakery-cafe model rolling out nationwide features a dual drive-thru with a dedicated Rapid Pick-Up lane among other digitally-powered elements.

Recently, the brand has been actively testing ghost kitchens, with five currently operational nationwide and more planned to open this year. The Panera To Go concept differs from ghost kitchens in that the new format offers a branded front-of-house experience where guests can quickly pick up digital orders on their own. Ordering and payment for Panera To Go orders are only available on Panera’s digital channels via web or on the Panera app.

“Panera To Go is another way we can make our guests’ 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 guest with an exceptional digital experience and adapted our digital channels to provide our guest even more options in the Panera To Go format.”

Adapting the Brick-and-Mortar Format

Panera Brands’ move comes as other brand are rolling out concepts designed with off-premises dining in mind -- and without dining rooms.

Also dedicated to pick-up and delivery only.Chipotle Digital Kitchen prototype opened last year in in Highland Falls, NY.  In March, CEC BrandsPeter Piper Pizza introduced its new Express prototype that’s exclusively for to-go orders. And technology innovator Taco Bell's latest location in Minnesota also skips the dining room.  Taco Bell Defy's four-lane drive-thru includes a lane dedicated for digital orders