By Kelly O’Quinn
It’s been one month since Panera Cares opened its first “Community Kitchen” concept – customers are welcome to pay what they see fit for their meal according to a suggested price on the menu. The community kitchen concept urges those who can afford to pay their full meal price, or even a little extra, to stay true to the honor system, while allowing those who may not have the means to pay full price to receive a hot meal and pay what they can. This allows restaurants to bring in a wider range of customers – they are able to keep their regulars of middle to upper-class diners while adding on working families or college students whose income is a bit shaky.
Ronald Shaich, Panera’s Chairman, was unsure about the outcome of his experimental, nonprofit location, but was pleasantly surprised to find that people still abide by the honor system – the restaurant took in $100,000 in revenue in its first month. Shaich estimated that about 60 to 70% paid in full, 15% left a bit more, and another 15% paid less, or nothing at all. If this outcome continues, Shaich expects to be able to cover the restaurant’s total costs within months and eventually be able to donate some of the profits to charitable organizations.
The Community Kitchen concept has been adopted by a few other eateries, such as Denise Cerreta’s The One World Salt Lake City Community Kitchen, but Panera Cares is the largest thus far to try it. With plans to open two more nonprofit locations in the next few months, Panera has proved that if customers continue to dine on their honor, nonprofit restaurants could turn huge business.