Panera – Innovation for People Who Have No Money

By Shlomo   Maital 


Writing in the Boston Globe, Alyssa Edes tells us about Panera, a French bakery/café that has a new business innovation – give your stuff away, for free, or nearly free. 

   For example, “when Jonathan Diotalevi walked in to “Panera Cares”, a new Panera branch near Boston’s Government Center, “a smiling employee greeted Diotalevi at the door;  he waited in line, ordered a tomato- mozzarella panini, and then asked the clerk, “So, can I, like, just give you two bucks?”   Yes, he could. And he did, dropping the money into a nearby donation bin.”

   What?  No prices? No 30 per cent profit margin?  How in the world can you run a business like this?   Fox Network will scream that this is a Commie plot to undermine capitalism. 

  Here is how this branch works.  “The restaurant at 3 Center Plaza may have been as busy at lunch time as any of the chains’s other cafes nationwide — more than 1,600 of them — but there’s a reason cochief executive Ron Shaich calls this one “a test of human nature.”  The nonprofit outpost of Panera Bread Co. doesn’t have any cash registers, or set prices. Instead, it depends on donations from customers who pay whatever they can afford. The Government Center shop is the fifth of its kind for the St. Louis-based company — the first in this region.”

    Note: Some people pay more than the regular price.  “I think it’s awesome because it’s obviously beneficial for people who are a little less fortunate,” said customer Yanick Belzile of Lowell. “We can afford to, so we put in a little bit extra. If we can help someone else who can’t pay for a meal, why not?”   

    “Wayne Gilchrist, who said he lives under a bridge in Cambridge, said he made a modest donation for a coffee and French bread with butter. “I’m homeless,” Gilchrist said. “I got nothing and still gave because I want others to have.” “

   About one out of every six Americans, or about 50 million, are “food insecure” or have trouble coming up with enough money to buy food, according to the US Department of Agriculture.   “Many of those people work — some of them work two jobs,” said Kate Antonacci, Boston Panera Cares project manager.  “Hunger affects people of all types, so it’s not only the destitute we serve. “

   When I’m next in America, I plan to eat at Panera.  Let’s support capitalists who get it, and who build businesses on the idea that people are basically trustworthy. 

    This idea could spread.  What if businesses charged according to “pay what you can” and “pay what you think is fair”, rather than “pay as much as we can gouge from you, to keep our rich shareholders happy”?   Wall St. might never be the same.