Panera Bread readies To Go store opening in New York City, banking on tech advancements

Bakery-chain plans expansion of smaller restaurants, no-seating To Go stores, AI deployment

Panera Bread has doubled down on expanding its technology-centric cafes as it opens a To Go concept store in New York City in December. Digital sales at the bakery-cafe chain now account for 50% of total system sales, Panera revealed. In addition to To Go concepts, Urban Format stores will become a bigger part of the portfolio.

The chain’s expansion in urban markets will be boosted by these stores of the future, marked by little to no seating and powered by advances in technology.

The new Urban Store Format will pair technology, such as ordering kiosks, with a store that is 40% smaller than a traditional Panera bakery cafe. A fully-digital menu board, Rapid Pick-Up status screens, combined with limited counter seating to provide a truly rapid takeout experience.

The Urban Format Panera cafe will be the first to fully adapt the “new Panera brand world, featuring modern and inviting new art, and updated design touches and color palette,” noted the fast casual in a statement.

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The first New York City Panera To Go store will debut next month, featuring no indoor dining. The on-the-go customer will be the focal point of these stores, according to Panera Bread, and team members will have an opportunity to focus on back-of-house processes to enhance the food served. This new opening follows an earlier successful test in Chicago.

“At Panera, our innovation has always been rooted in the guest and associate experience, how we can reduce friction, drive convenience and bring Panera to new places where we know the demand is high for the freshly-prepared food we serve,” said Eduardo Luz, chief brand concept officer at Panera Bread. “With a flexible portfolio of cafe designs, we’re now able to bring Panera anywhere, from suburban cafes with double drive-thrus, to a digital-only Panera To Go and everything in between.”

AI technology will also play a bigger role in the future of Panera’s operations. The company is using AI to help reorder ingredients needed based on sales trends. In addition, earlier this year, the bakery-cafe chain implemented Miso Robotics’ automated coffee brewing system in a pilot, just as it rolled out its Unlimited Sip Club subscription program. Panera also tested OpenCity’s proprietary voice AI ordering technology, called Tori, for drive-thru orders. With Tori, it sought to maximize efficiency and increase speed of orders.

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The fast casual suggests that technological advancements will help its team members focus on food preparation and enhancing the guest experience. In October, Panera revamped its loyalty program, MyPanera, giving customers more redemption options.

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