Panera 'Pay-What-You-Want' Success Kind of Restores My Faith in Humanity

panera breadToday for lunch, I decided to get a Greek salad from my local Panera Bread Co. Usually, I'd rather make a salad at home than cough up $7 or $8 for one, but I haven't gone grocery shopping yet this week. From your waistline to your wallet, it's always better to brown bag it, right?

But now, since reading some interesting news about the fast casual chain, I can't help but feel a bit proud that I patronized Panera today.

After a year, the Panera "pay-what-you-want" cafés -- for which food items on the menu don't have set prices, just "suggested funding levels" -- are actually successful.


In general (and I don't know if this is just the result of living in the NYC area), you'd think a lot of people would use a place like this as an excuse to waltz in, order $20 worth of food, and leave a fiver.

But it seems like that's actually pretty rare. As it turns out, at the Clayton, Missouri location, the majority of patrons pay retail value or more. Statistics provided by Panera indicate that roughly 60 percent leave the suggested amount; 20 percent leave more; and 20 percent less. One person paid $500 for a meal, the largest single payment!

The company plans to open another pay-what-you-want branch every three months or so. I'm sure that has something to do with the fact that the Clayton location has been so successful. It's performing at about 80 percent of retail and brings in revenue of about $100,000 a month. (That's enough to make $3,000 to $4,000 a month above costs, with money being used for a job training program for at-risk youths.)

I gotta say, this is actually really awesome. And it kinda restores my faith in humanity (at least for the time being). With hope, the success of these pay-what-you-want Paneras will inspire other restaurants to have faith in patrons. Not sure if the concept will be as successful outside of the Midwest and Northwest (cause, yeah, people are just innately nicer there!), but it's worth a shot.

Do you think a "pay-what-you-want" restaurant would work in your town?


Image via JD Hancock/Flickr

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