Before the pandemic, Panera had a significant share of the $ 60 billion restoration business. In fact, the company claims to be the largest restaurant caterer in the country.
But like its peers in space, catering all but disappeared at the start of the pandemic, as office workers moved away and social gatherings were avoided all together.
Employees are not necessarily returning to office buildings yet, but the chain is starting to recover some of these critical items. sale of high-end catering focusing on remote and hybrid employees. This clientele is certainly a good target: around 45% of companies plan to maintain a hybrid workforce model throughout this year, according to CNBC.
As such, Panera introduced Panera Connects, a program that offers businesses the option of hosting catered meetings, regardless of where the attendees are located. The meeting host registers an event on the Panera website and a notification is then sent to each attendee, who are asked to place their order, address and date. Panera captures this information, produces and delivers the food through its own team or one of its third-party delivery partners and bills the host, who has the option of adding dollar limits on each order.
According to Chris Correnti, senior vice president of Off-Premise Channels, the Panera Connects test held meetings with hundreds of attendees, none of whom were in the same building. Adoption has been significant across all industries, from finance and insurance to hospitals and higher education.
âThe program supports an inclusive and collaborative environment that employers are looking for in this new environment,â said Correnti.
Panera Connects is now available to all loyal MyPanera customers and will be open to the general public later this year. This loyalty link is a natural progression for the chain, because its program has exceeded 40 million members. Correnti said one of the biggest demands the chain receives from restaurant consumers is to pay by credit card and that “the path to the least resistance to do so is through MyPanera.”
When Connects expands to the general public, it expects an increase in orders for personal catering, relative to its traditional business-to-business customer base. It comes as consumers are eager to organize more events and most plan to support these events.
Meanwhile, for businesses that operate with an in-person employee base, Panera has also introduced Panera Day at Work, a feature that allows individuals to order and pay for a discounted meal and have it delivered as than group order. This program has gained ground as workplace cafeterias are struggling to reopen.
âLots of offices are reopening, but not with the same foot traffic as before, which means some cafeterias may not reopen. Panera Day at Work is a solution to satisfy employees and make this office environment more welcoming, âsaid Correnti.
The program is currently live in 250 companies across several verticals and is experiencing strong growth, he added.
The channel is able to run these programs both due to its large national footprint –about 2,200 units– and its robust technological infrastructure. More than 60% of Panera sales come from digital channels, for example. Whether or not they are needed in the long term remains an open question.
âIt’s a little too early to tell what the future of restaurant business looks like. As businesses decide how they will operate in the future, we will continue to change, âCorrenti said. âRight now, we know there are new opportunities beyond traditional catering. These opportunities are for remote workers and how do you include them, and how do you help employees get back to the office. It evolves very quickly and we recognize these new opportunities and we face them. ”
It is also too early to predict whether restaurant sales will return to pre-pandemic levels, which would have already been as high as 10% of sales for Panera (although the company does not confirm this percentage).
âWe hope to return to those same levels, but now we are monitoring and assessing the changing needs of our customers. Catering is very important to Panera. The good news is that we are seeing it coming back, but not like before the pandemic, âCorrenti said. âIt’s a new world and the work has changed. It means finding a way to meet the needs of traditional, hybrid and remote workers. “