Dive Brief:

  • Panera announced a restaurant design Thursday that includes a double drive-thru, with one lane dedicated to the restaurant’s Rapid Pick-Up service. The design also features digitized menus at the drive-thru and in-store, updated ordering kiosks and automatic loyalty identification. The prototype supports contactless dine-in and delivery as well. 
  • The first restaurant featuring this design will open in November in Ballwin, Missouri, near Panera’s St. Louis headquarters. Going forward, each new Panera unit or remodel will use this design, Eduardo Luz, chief brand and concept officer, told CNBC, and most of these locations will be in suburban markets to accommodate the model’s drive-thru lanes.
  • Eighty-five percent of Panera’s business came through off-premise channels during the pandemic, Panera said in a statement emailed to Restaurant Dive. The chain’s loyalty program now includes 43 million members. Comparatively, fast casual rival Chipotle has 21 million rewards members.

Dive Insight:

Panera’s new store design marries two major points of competition among restaurant chains in 2021: digitally optimized off-premise solutions and convenient loyalty integration. 

Luz told CNBC that Panera is mulling several different methods to make its “automatic loyalty identification” possible, including through microfencing technology or by scanning a code. 

“Once you are identified, the vision is that we interact and acknowledge and treat you as a person, with preferences,” Luz told the publication. “It’s what you expect when you go to a neighborhood cafe.”

This tech-driven personalization is becoming a mainstream diner expectation and is sparking similar design investments across the restaurant space. McDonald’s restaurants piloting the chain’s loyalty program, for example, greet customers by name as they journey through the drive-thru lane. After guests receive their orders, McDonald’s will also send them personalized emails that include promotions reflecting their menu preferences. 

Panera joins a slew of major QSR restaurant chains debuting store models that are optimizing the drive-thru experience with digital demand in mind, including Taco Bell and Burger King. Fellow fast casual Chipotle is also doubling down on the expansion of its mobile pickup lanes.

Panera is extending convenience-driven innovation to its dining room, as well. If a diner doesn’t want to interact with staff, kiosks or the chain’s pagers, they can order their meal on their phone for dine-in (in addition to pickup, drive-thru and delivery). When a dine-in guest’s food is ready, Panera will send them a mobile notification so they can collect it. 

The dining room will also feature the bakery-cafe ovens in full view of diners so they can watch the baking process as they eat. This could signal authenticity and quality to guests, and balance Panera’s investments in contactless convenience with a heightened level of in-store experience. Three existing Panera locations are piloting the new bakery format, Luz told CNBC.

Improving guest wayfinding will be a major focus of the new model as Panera looks to own an omnichannel experience. The chain will deploy clear routes for guests on the exterior of the cafe and once inside the door to guide customers to either traditional ordering at a register or kiosk or the food pickup area.