How Panera Bread reinvented its customer experience

hurstBlaine Hurst, the Chief Transformation and Growth Officer at Panera Bread, says that he and founder Ron Shaich both acknowledged that the fast casual restaurant chain had a problem. Panera, with $2.4 billion in annual revenue, had a vision of being “a comfortable place to hang out — an everyday oasis, with fireplaces and comfy chairs,” as Hurst puts it. But the problem was that as volume grew at many of the company’s 1,800 locations, “it was no longer pleasant,” Hurst concedes. Customers were standing in line, and then standing around again in what Shaich dubbed “the mosh pit” waiting for their to-go or for-here orders to appear on a counter.

The duo embarked on an effort to radically upgrade the customer experience by redesigning the stores.

“We called it the ‘two old man project,'” Hurst says. “We’re two of the oldest people in the company, but we were working on the newest innovations.” It wasn’t just about installing kiosks and digital displays, though, or adding features to Panera’s mobile app. “We realized we needed a holistic solution,” Hurst says. “We needed to think about how people want to order and pay, how we could increase throughput and accuracy in making the food, and also, avoiding that mosh pit problem.”

Panera has now converted more than 40 of its cafes to the new “Panera 2.0” model, which cost about $42 million to develop. Here’s how it works, along with more insight from Hurst about how they tested the new designs at a single location in Boston before rolling them out more widely.

1. Customers choose the most convenient way to order. They can order online or with Panera’s mobile app, and have their to-go order waiting for them when they arrive. They can order using an iPad-powered kiosk (below), which enables them to swipe their own credit card to pay, or use one that is kept on file.

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