Panera’s New Initiatives Cater to Flexibility of Remote Businesses

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Panera Bread has had to adapt to the pandemic and is rolling out several new initiatives to transform its catering business, according to CNBC.

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Pre-pandemic, about 10% of Panera Bread’s business came from catering for companies and universities, but that channel took a COVID-related hit, due to remote working, Restaurant Business reported. The chain, which claimed to be the largest restaurant caterer in the U.S. before the pandemic, is now adapting its catering business to how the U.S. workforce has changed, CNBC reports.

One of the initiatives that Panera has been working on is to cater company meetings, no matter where that company’s employees are working, CNBC reports. As of April 27, 2021, there were 2,118 bakery-cafes in 48 states and in Ontario, Canada, according to the company’s website.

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“When you have certain people coming in on certain days, some people not coming in at all, how do you maintain that culture, collaboration, relationship?” Chris Correnti, Panera’s senior vice president of off-premise channels, positioned to CNBC.

Panera recently floated this as an option for its loyalty program members. Later this year, the chain plans to make the program available to all of its customers, as long as they pay with credit cards. Once it’s open to the general public, the program won’t be just for business events, but will expand to personal celebrations like remote baby showers or graduations, CNBC reports.

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Henric Larsson, CEO of marketing group Chimney Vigor Group, tells GOBankingRates that “Panera is onto something that can make remote work a bit more engaging and including.”

“We have seen a strong positive effect of remote teams sharing the same experience in a meeting like have a meal together using video conferencing,” Larsson says. “That said, I am certain more companies than expected will demand their staff to come back to the offices — look at Apple, Morgan Stanley, Volvo etc.”

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The second initiative Panera has been working on is scheduled group ordering for companies: individual employees order and pay for their own orders at a discount, but the whole order is delivered as a group at a set day and time, according to CNBC. Correnti told CNBC that this could be a great incentive for employers to encourage workers to come back into the office on a certain day, even if the company offers more flexibility.

Dan Kobin, president of AES NYC, tells GOBankingRates that from the perspective of managing large venues catering to high volume and corporate events, there are two primary benefits to these new catering initiatives.

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“First, clients are ordering individual lunches to maintain health and safety precautions against COVID. Second, pre-packed meals are an efficient use of kitchen time and staff costs. Streamlining their operations for catered meetings and personal celebrations lower the on-site costs and staff needed to work the full scale of catered events,” Kobin says.

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Last updated: July 19, 2021