Panera Bread announced on Tuesday a new way to experience the brand beyond dine-in, delivery, drive-thru, rapid pickup, and curbside pickup: contactless dine-in.
Joining the surge in human-free foodservice experiences, customers will be able to order their food via the Panera app either when they arrive in the restaurant or are on their way, and will receive an email, text, and/or push notification when their food is ready at the counter. That way, customers can receive their food exactly when it’s ready without the need for pagers or waiting at the counter.
The contactless dine-in feature rolls out to the MyPanera app this week to all bakery/café locations.
“This is part of a larger effort to create a digitally enabled café,” George Hanson, senior vice president, chief digital officer at Panera Bread told Nation’s Restaurant News. “Panera is a place where people do still want to gather. Our off-premise business has exploded, but we still have a very big dine-in portion of guests.”
Although the contactless dine-in option won’t be for everyone, Hanson said, it will serve a subsect of Panera’s guest that want to mix digital convenience with an in-person lunch (or whichever meal).
“The guest controls the entire ordering experience,” Hanson said. “They know exactly where their order is, they don't have to touch a pager, they don't have to touch a physical receipt, and they don't have to hover by the counter. For some people, that experience is going to be attractive.”
For employees, this new option is meant to make both back of the house and front of the house labor easier. The contactless dine-in orders will just come up as regular dine-in orders, so that employees will know not to package it as to-go items. Also, since there will ostensibly be fewer guests waiting in line to order food, front of the house employees can focus on providing hospitality to guests in the dining room and asking how their experience is, as opposed to just stand behind the register all day.
“We’re hoping this frees up our employees to provide more value-added services to our guests,” Hanson said.
The introduction of digital technology options for guests is just beginning, Hanson said.
“Our guests are more digitally savvy than ever,” he said. “They're voting more and more for digital to be a part of their ordering experiences, both within restaurant and outside.”
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