Panera To Go store, featuring chain’s digital-only service, opens in Chicago

Order-ahead, branded concept debuts as chain tests delivery-only ghost kitchens nationwide

Panera Bread opened its first Panera To Go store, which offers the chain’s Rapid Pick-Up and Delivery orders only, in Chicago. This is the first of three To Go stores, where customers order ahead on Panera’s website or app only, slated to debut. The digital-only unit reduces the front of house, but maximizes space for delivery drivers and customers picking up orders from Rapid Pick-Up and Panera Delivery shelves.

The fast-casual chain, part of Panera Brands, noted that it has built up its off-premises channels over time. At the end of last year, 81% of Panera Bread’s sales came in via delivery, Rapid Pick-Up, drive-thru, and catering.

“We strive to make it easy for our guests to access Panera’s chef-curated menu, in the most convenient way. Panera To Go creates yet another access point for our guests, via Rapid Pick-Up or delivery, in locations where Panera has not historically operated,” said Eduardo Luz, chief brand & concept officer, Panera Bread. “We are excited to launch into more trade areas, where we know people are craving for what Panera offers—freshly prepared delicious dishes, crafted by our chefs and bakers, using clean ingredients.”

As a carryout and delivery-only store, the Chicago Panera To Go location is sans seats with conveniently-accessible shelving for pick-up, which is in test. Two other such units will open in California and Washington, DC during 2022. Executives will consider adding kiosk and catering orders. The bakery-cafe chain’s To Go units are designed to serve all dayparts, a statement noted, including breakfast where applicable.

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As of the end of 2021, 44% of Panera stores included a drive-thru. Panera Bread says it has been responding to the demand for off-premises dining, which is still growing. Through Rapid Pick-Up, which launched in 2016, and Panera Curbside, which debuted in 2020, it has been giving guests options as consumers have sought out order-ahead.

Plus, the Panera Next-Gen bakery-cafe design will include a dual drive-thru, with a dedicated Rapid Pick-up lane, as well as in-store digital enhancements.

“Panera To Go is another way we can make our guests’ lives easier through digital convenience, which is always at the heart of what we do,” said George Hanson, chief digital officer, Panera Bread. “We are already leaders in providing our guest with an exceptional digital experience and adapted our digital channels to provide our guest even more options in the Panera To Go format.”

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In addition, Panera Bread revealed it has been actively testing ghost kitchens, with five operational in the United States, and more planned to open this year. The Panera To Go concept differs from ghost kitchens. For example, at the Chicago Panera To Go location, customers order ahead and pick up their food and beverages on their own.

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