In April, Panera Bread introduced a new fast-casual concept that aims to reduce ordering lines & wait times at their nearly 1,800 locations nationwide. The plan, called Panera 2.0, includes electronic Fast Lane Kiosks placed in the front of the restaurant or near the registers. A few pilot restaurants have already adopted the new system, which includes about four to eight kiosks & a Rapid Pick-Up Window. Other new services include online ordering, over-the-phone ordering, customizable meals & table service. At the same time, registers are being removed, cutting back on the human interaction element of a customer’s visit. Panera’s CEO says that there won’t be any job cuts, and that former cashiers will instead wait tables.
We visited one of the new pilot locations in the southwest Charlotte district of Ayrsley in late June. The Panera 2.0 system has already been implemented there, but it is clear that the plan, just about 3 months old, needs some tweaking. It was noon when we visited, so the restaurant was clearly crowded. It was the perfect time to see if the system is a success. Three Fast Lane Kiosks sit at the main entrance, two more near the register area, next to the only 2 manned registers. We used one of the three kiosks in front to place our order, which consisted of typical lunch items: sandwiches, sides, drinks, & sweets. As we placed our to-go order, the screen timed out and we were forced to begin all over again. Finally, the order was placed and the drink cups were removed from the un-monitored holders. We moved down to the Rapid Pick-Up Window, which also has specially reserved parking spaces for to-go customers in the lot outside, and waited for our order. An employee approached us and informed us that a bakery item we ordered that was listed as available at the kiosk was, unfortunately, not available. We decided the item, which cost $2.49, could be replaced by a $1.49 muffin top, but, since credit/debit cards are only accepted at the kiosk, we wondered how we would get our refund. To our dismay, the same employee told us that, “in the end, it all evens out.” We didn’t agree, especially since a whole dollar plus tax in their favor isn’t exactly even. Eventually, our $1.08 was returned to our card and our to-go meal was delivered. As we began to leave the parking lot, we noticed that an extra items was in our bag that didn’t belong to us. In good honesty, we returned the item back to the restaurant. Later, we found out that tomatoes were included on a sandwich that had been ordered without.
It’s obvious that the system needs some fixing, and it isn’t expected for Panera 2.0 to work perfectly immediately. Panera correctly predicted this, for the entire system is expected to be implemented in all Panera locations by the end of 2016. This leaves 2 1/2 years for tweaking. We noticed a few things that could be fixed to improve the system. First, fountain drink cups can be moved to a monitored area. Where they are currently placed allows customers to cheat the system & grab more than the amount of cups they purchased. Since Panera employees around the kiosk don’t know what you ordered, they have no way of knowing if you are stealing or not. Another important thing that can be changed is product availability. If, on the kiosk, an item says that it is available at that location, then I expect to receive that item should I choose to purchase it. On the other hand, the kiosk may list an item as unavailable, but the restaurant may have it in the kitchen. Regardless, Panera needs to correct the flaws in Panera 2.0.
You can check out a Panera 2.0 overview video here. If any more news comes in about the new system, we’ll pass it along to you.
This isn’t the first big thing that St. Louis, Missouri-based Panera has announced this year. In May, they revealed a bakery concept store in New Haven, Connecticut, which is supposed to honor Panera’s roots. More recently, in June, they unveiled a new food policy and pledged to serve healthier food. They also have special kiosks in sports centers & airports, like this one at the Amway Center in Orlando.
(Sources: USA Today, Panera, Business Insider, Flickr, Learfield Sports)