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Panera opens first of its restaurants for digital-only pickup and delivery |

Panera To Go is a fully digital restaurant with a reduced facade where customers and delivery drivers can easily pick up orders from dedicated pick-up and delivery shelves.

By RTN Staff – 6.10.2022

Panera Bread, which operates 2,118 bakery-cafés in 48 states and Ontario, Canada as Panera Bread or Saint Louis Bread Co., opened its first “Panera To Go”, a new restaurant format offering convenience digital for choosing preparation and delivery orders. The Chicago-based restaurant is the first of three so-called “Panera To Go” test sites slated to open this year.

Panera To Go is a fully digital restaurant with a reduced facade where customers and delivery drivers can easily pick up orders from dedicated pick-up and delivery shelves. Designed for densely populated areas that cannot accommodate a restaurant, the new format allows Panera to meet demand in these areas for easy off-site options.

At the end of 2021, 81% of Panera’s sales were through one of Panera’s offsite channels, including delivery, pickup, drive-thru and catering. The Panera To Go facade does not offer seating and is currently testing delivery and pick-up on shelves that customers and delivery drivers can easily access.

With fewer in-room tasks and streamlined operations, Panera To Go employees are focused solely on meeting the unique needs of an on-the-go customer. Panera plans to open two more Panera To Go locations in California and Washington DC this year, and will also evaluate adding kiosk and catering orders to the new format in the future. According to the company, the intention of Panera To Go restaurants is to serve all parts of the day, including breakfast, where available.

Innovation and adoption of restaurant technology is nothing new for the 30-year-old company. Recent rollouts include updated ordering kiosks, automatic loyalty identification and a fully digitized menu both in cafes and behind the wheel.

“We strive to make it easy for our customers to access the menu prepared by Panera’s chef, in the most convenient way. Panera To Go creates another access point for our customers, via fast pick-up or delivery, in places where Panera has never operated,” said Eduardo Luz, Brand and Concept Director, Panera Bread, in a press release.

By the end of 2021, 44% of Panera locations included drive-thru, and the company has continuously innovated to add new hotspots in response to growing demand for off-site dining. Panera launched “Rapid Pick-Up” nationwide in 2016, offering customers the option to order ahead and pick up their prepared order from a dedicated shelf in the dining room.

In 2020, the Missouri-based company launched “Panera Curbside,” a location-enabled service that allows customers to have their order delivered right to their car. The new nationwide restaurant model features dual drive-thrus with a dedicated pickup lane among other digitally powered elements.

The AI-powered system is designed to eliminate the need for manual coffee urn checks and provide simple, accurate coffee volume and temperature information. (Image courtesy of Miso Robotics)

Recently, the brand has been actively testing shadow kitchens, five of which are currently operational nationwide with more expected to open this year. The “Panera To Go” concept differs from ghost kitchens in that the new format offers a branded facade experience where customers can quickly take digital orders themselves. Ordering and payment for orders is available on Panera’s digital channels via the web or on the Panera app.

In April, Panera announced that it was evaluating and testing a new system designed to improve the coffee monitoring process. The AI-powered system is designed to eliminate the need for manual coffee urn checks and provide simple, accurate coffee volume and temperature information. This allows Panera associates to brew a new batch in a timely manner so the coffee stays fresh and hot for guests.

The system monitors key coffee parameters such as volume, temperature and time data, and combines them with predictive analytics to ensure a quality cup of coffee and a more efficient team member experience. The system, dubbed CookRight Coffee, was developed by Miso Robotics, known for its restaurant robotics and smart automation. The product line is Miso’s latest version of its CookRight system and is designed to evolve as it learns its environment and adds new enhancements over time.

“Panera To Go is another way to make life easier for our customers through digital convenience, which is always at the heart of what we do,” Panera Bread Chief Digital Officer George Hanson said in a press release. “We are already leaders in providing our customers with an exceptional digital experience and have adapted our digital channels to give our customers even more options in the Panera To Go format.”

Richard Dement

The author Richard Dement