The café chain now has three 'Panera Cares' locations where people pay as much or little as they can afford. After one year, the idea seems to be working. 'People ... do the right thing,' says the company's founder.
After a year, Panera Bread's experiment with "pay what you can" restaurants seems to be working. The cafe chain now has three locations using the donations-only model (Clayton, Mo., Dearborn, Mich., and Portland, Ore.), out of its nearly 1,500 locations nationwide.
"We were doing this for ourselves to see if we could make a difference with our own hands, not just write a check, but really make a contribution to the community in a real, substantive way," Panera founder and Chairman Ronald Shaich told The Associated Press. The program, which Panera calls "Panera Cares," is an example of a "community kitchen," the AP says, in which for-profit companies act in part like nonprofits.
Most patrons, it finds, drop the entire retail cost, or more, into the voluntary donation box, in essence subsidizing a meal for someone who can't pay the full amount. Panera says about 60 percent leave the suggested amount; 20 percent leave more; and 20 percent leave less. The largest single payment so far? One person paid $500 for a meal.
Few people seem to be taking unfair advantage of the system. Most know that wouldn't be fair. Not paying when you could "is like parking in a handicapped spot," Mr. Shaich says.