Panera Bread to allow customers to ‘pay-what-you-want’ at some restaurants

Katie LaPotin, Red Alert Politics, March 27, 2013

Residents of St. Louis will soon be able to pay whatever they want for Panera’s tasty turkey chili bread bowl.

That’s because the company, which is headquartered in the Gateway to the West, is experimenting with a new program called the “Meal of Shared Responsibility” as part of an effort to end hunger in America.

“We hope the suggested donations offset those who say they only have three bucks in their pocket or leave nothing,”said Ron Shaich, the founder, chairman and co-CEO of the chain and president of its charitable arm, Panera Bread Foundation.

“But we never want to put the cart before the horse. So we want to see how this does, how it works, and how people respond,” he added.

Shaich notes that the program has two main goals. Donations made that are more than the $5.89 retail price will be used to subsidize the cost of the bread bowls sold for less than the retail price and pay for the foundation, while the 850-calorie meal is also substantial enough to serve as a day’s worth of nutrition for those who cannot afford three square meals a day.

If the experiment works in St. Louis, it could be expanded to other cafes nationwide, although there is no guarantee or timetable for this.

The company has long been involved in anti-hunger efforts. In 2010, the company – which is called St. Louis Bread Company in Missouri – opened its first pay-what-you-want restaurant in the St. Louis suburb of Clayton, and has since expanded to Dearborn, Mich., Portland, Ore., Chicago and Boston. At these five restaurants every item on the menu is paid for by donations. According to Shaich, the pay-what-you-want cafes typically bring in about 70 to 75 percent of the retail price of the menu items daily, which he considers to be enough to sustain the cafes.

Panera also runs the program Operation Dough-Nation, which has donated millions of dollars annually in unsold baked goods to anti-hunger organizations like Feeding America for more than 20 years.

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