Innovation That Matters

Bakery chain's nonprofit cafés let patrons pay what they can

Nonprofit & Social Cause

The virtual ink had barely dried on our story about Café Gratitude and its pay-what-you-can menu item when we came across a similar initiative, this time on a larger scale. Bakery chain Panera — which operates more than 1,460 bakery-cafés in the U.S. and Canada — recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of its nonprofit Panera Cares community cafés, where patrons are allowed to pay what they can. One of the goals of Panera’s charitable Panera Cares program is “to ensure that everyone who needs a meal gets one,” in the company’s own words. Toward that end, patrons at the community cafés are encouraged to take what they need — the menu is the same as in Panera’s for-profit locations — and to donate their fair share. There are no prices or cash registers — only suggested donation levels and donation bins. There’s also the option of volunteering an hour of time in exchange for a meal. The latest Panera Cares café — opened earlier this year in Portland, Oregon — joined two launched in 2010 in Clayton, Missouri, and Dearborn, Michigan. So far, Panera has found that about 20 percent of the visitors to its Panera Cares cafés leave more than the suggested donation amount, 20 percent leave less and 60 percent leave the suggested donation. On average, each café serves 3,500 to 4,000 customers per week and generates about 75 to 80 percent of the retail value of the food, the company says. “The vision for the Panera Cares café was to use Panera’s unique restaurant skills to address real societal needs and make a direct impact in communities,” explains Ron Shaich, Panera Bread’s cofounder and executive chairman and president of the Panera Bread Foundation. “If we continue at the level of donation we’ve been experiencing, we should be able to cover all of our costs and sustain our community cafés for the long term.” In partnership with Covenant House Missouri, the Panera Cares location in that state also recently launched a job training program for at-risk youth. In May, three individuals completed 12 weeks of job skills and life skills training classes, and are now expected to go on to employment at local Panera Bread bakery-cafés. How is your brand demonstrating its generosity and community commitment? Spotted by: Katherine Noyes



Download PDF