Why Panera Bread Relies So Much On Its App Orders

If you've been to Panera Bread lately, then you know that the restaurant chain has become more mobile app focused. Beginning in February of 2022, customers have been given the option of a contactless dine-in experience, meaning that they would order from the table using their phones instead of standing in line to order at the register. Customers who have allowed notifications from Panera will get an alert upon entering the restaurant that they can order straight from the table if they so choose. Further, if you've come into Panera just to pick up a to-go order (also using the app), then you won't be notified about the table ordering system, as that would be redundant. So what's the reason for the shift to contactless dine-in?

According to Panera's chief digital officer, George Hanson, the company has seen a significant financial gain by relying on mobile ordering. In 2022, Hanson spoke to Restaurant Business about the limited test run Panera conducted prior to offering the option at all its stores. 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." Hanson also noted that they saw an overall positive response from customers about the new system during the test run.

Businesses make more money from mobile ordering

Contactless dine-in is relatively new, but it follows the trend of ordering ahead of time at coffee chains and fast food restaurants. Starbucks is a prime example — the chain has been offering mobile ordering since 2014, and as of 2022, a whopping 25% of sales occurred via the Starbucks app (per CNBC). Like Panera, the company has noted that ordering through an app increases the amount that a customer spends. In addition to increased sales per visit, studies have shown that the mobile ordering option also increases the frequency at which a customer visits a store (per Chicago Tribune). Mobile ordering allows a customer to take their time customizing their order, preventing them from making rash decisions. Plus, all of the possible add-ins are literally at the tips of their fingers, making it easier for them to spend more.

While there is less information on the financial implications of contactless dine-in services, they offer many of the same benefits and likely see similar financial gains. Just as with mobile ordering, contactless dine-in allows easy customization with a better guarantee that substitutes will be noted — there won't be a miscommunication issue when ordering through your phone. It also allows for a quicker table turnover, as customers don't have to wait for the server to come around to take their order, which also leads to more money made. With mobile ordering working wonders for coffee chains and fast food joints, it certainly makes sense that Panera — as well as other casual dine-in restaurants — are picking up on the trend.