Innovation That Matters

Caprese sandwich | Photo source Raphael Nogueira on Unsplash

US restaurant chain lets customers design their own meals

Food & Drink

Panera Bread knows what you want on your sandwich and when you are going to eat it


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US-based Panera Bread lets customers at its restaurants design their own meals using simple technology. Information about ingredients is available digitally. This includes not just which ingredients are in a particular dish, but also the nutritional value of these ingredients and where they are sourced. Customers can then add or delete ingredients from their sandwich or salad.

“We’re allowing you as a customer the power to control what you eat,” says company Chief Growth and Strategy Officer Dan Wegiel.

In recent years, Panera has dramatically increased its digital presence. It used to be that customers could either order in a Panera restaurant or via a drive-through. Now customers can order from their computer at work and get food delivered, or by smartphone or in a kiosk at the restaurant. The initial focus of these technologies was to control long lines at peak times, such as midday. But eventually, Panera Bread discovered customers were more interested in controlling what they ordered than in speedy service.

Allowing customers to design meals gives the company enormous insight into their behaviour. The data collected digitally — fuelled also by a massive loyalty programme of tens of millions of members — informs Panera about customer eating habits and when they visit. This lets the company tailor promotions that target particular days of the week or offer dishes that include spicy food, as examples.

“Digital opens more doors than just access. It also introduces opportunities for personalisation. We’re allowing customisation that really hasn’t existed before and it’s built on our transparency…you can literally deconstruct and reconstruct an entrée item,” Wegiel said.



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