Starting Tuesday, diners can walk into a Panera Bread, sit at a table and use their phone to order a meal to eat in the restaurant via the fast casual’s app.
The contactless dine-in program, which was in a limited test before being rolled out nationwide, helps customers avoid lines at the cash register, the chain said. But it also extends the off-premise digital strategy the chain has honed during the pandemic into the restaurant, Panera’s Chief Digital Officer George Hanson said.
“We’re trying to bring the best of all of the digital work we’re doing off-premise, and bring that into the café,” Hanson said. “Our guests have adopted digital in such a significant way.”
Panera has some 45 million members in its reward program.
The technology behind the new ordering channel is surprisingly complex and has been in the works for the last couple of years, Hanson said.
First, it uses geofencing technology, allowing customers who’ve enabled Panera notifications to receive an alert, as soon as they walk in the restaurant, that they can now order from their table. Then it uses order-tracking technology to provide real-time order status updates, so diners know when their food and drinks are ready to pick up at the counter.
Finally, the platform is able to discern whether you’ve entered Panera to pick up something you’ve already ordered so it doesn’t serve you the redundant notification about ordering at the table.
“We would be tone deaf if we were messaging you to have a seat and place an order,” he said. “We’re thinking about these as smart notifications. We’ve had to build that capability.”
In the testing phase, customers have been receptive to the new ordering option. And, they’re spending more money, Hanson said.
“We’re seeing a higher check, which is really interesting to see,” he said. “Overall, there’s just been a total step change in both usage and comfort around digital.”
Panera will still have its in-restaurant ordering kiosks, as well as the ability to order and pay at the counter.
But the chain is hopeful that contactless ordering at the table will help its operations in at least a couple of ways: It will likely free up workers to do other tasks. And it will save on to-go packaging (and the time spent wrapping up off-premise orders).
“Even if you do not save any labor,” Hanson said. “The reallocation of people and their time is attractive. If there is time freed up, which we believe there will be, it allows our associates to be engaging with guests in a higher-value way.”
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