Panera Bread announced Tuesday an urban development plan featuring two new smaller café formats that lean into off-premises dining, including Panera To-Go: a 1,000-square-foot pickup-only store with no seating, which will open its second location in the next few weeks in New York City after a successful launch in Chicago.
The second store format is entirely new, will be 40% smaller than the average Panera café at 2,000 square feet and will be designed toward to go-customers with dedicated shelves for rapid pickup, a digital menu, tracking screen technology with detailed order statuses, and very limited seating.
These New York City stores — one in Union Square and one inside the Hearst building at Columbus Circle — will be the first of Panera’s exploration of urban markets with smaller real estate and a more expedited rush lunch hour culture.
“We are excited about expanding our formats and are ready to expand aggressively in urban areas,” Eduardo Luz, chief brand and concept officer for Panera told Nation’s Restaurant News. “We want to press forward and leverage our digital reach that has become 50% of our sales.”
Although Panera is known for its dine-in experience and café atmosphere, the St. Louis-based bakery-café chain has been experimenting with more off-premises-focused technology and to-go options over the past couple of years as customer needs have evolved. But that doesn’t mean that Panera will start changing over its entire portfolio:
“For us, it’s ‘and’, not ‘or’,” Luz said. “We love our suburban markets and we know they resonate with people and they like this brand. We want to keep that but we also want to be present in urban downtown neighborhoods and you just can’t do that and show up 4,000-square feet. We’re just expanding our customer base.”
To match the new urban surroundings, these new smaller formats are designed for efficiency where you can just walk in and pick up your order without having to wait. Luz said that the tech capabilities are all about “incentivizing digital transactions.” Besides being fully digital, the new Panera urban formats will also be sleeker and feature more modern design touches and color palettes.
For 2023, Panera has a pipeline of cities they want to expand in using these two new formats, along with a series of non-traditional locations in places like hospitals and universities, though the company did not expand on exactly when or where these new stores could be popping up next.
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