Panera's "pay what you want" cafes

Panera has been converting some existing stores to a "pay what you want" model and it appears to work. "'They feel like every other Panera Cafe in America; they don't feel the least bit different,' says Ron Shaich, co-founder and co-CEO of Panera Bread Co. Well, there is one difference customers will see: There's a donation box where the cash registers were." (NPR)


  1. As soon I read the first few lines I thought to myself, I’d never go, HS kids would be everywhere, throwing “free” food at each other being annoying and raucous.  And the wifi statues would linger even longer.

  2. I have a little card that Panera gave me some time ago. Every time I buy something there they swipe it and eventually I earn something free. On the one hand in a store that relies on donations I’m never going to earn “points” toward a free item, although I’m the sort of person who’d feel guilty about taking anything without leaving a reasonable (i.e. close to what they’d likely charge) amount of money. And a tip.

    On the other hand I’ve noticed it takes a lot of purchases to add up to one “free” item, and it’s usually small–a single pastry, or a small drink, and I have to get it within thirty days or the offer expires. I don’t go to Panera that often, so I’ve had three or four offers expire. So I remain torn. If the Panera near me goes to a “pay what you want” system do I take a few things without leaving money because I “earned” them? And how do I determine when I’ve spent enough to earn another “free” item?

    This is the sort of thing that makes me wish they’d just continue overcharging me for a grilled cheese sandwich.

  3. We have one of these in the city where I live and it really is just like another Panera. So far they’ve been able to break even and keep the cafe going based on donations and volunteer time. From what I can tell talking to the people who manage it it’s been a great success. Maybe it just depends on where they put it? I’m in Michigan, and we were hit hard by the recession, but I’ve never seen any sort of chaos there like is described in the Oregon article.

    1.  Well when you let the spoiled brats of already entitled run amock you get this anti-social behaviour.

      I think you need empathy to participate and many teenagers are just starting to develop empathy. So ageist restrictions might be the best thing for this particular store.

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