In Praise of Panera Bread Co.

How much would you pay for a cup of coffee at your local Panera, if it were a donation-only establishment?  How about a for a Big Mac? 

It’s always nice to hear or read news that’s a departure from doom, gloom, and political quarreling.  Apparently, Panera Bread Company is experimenting with a few non-profit locations.   The locations give customers suggested donation amounts.  How about a cup of coffee?  $1.75.

A customer deciding what to donate for food and drink at a Chicago Panera.
Image from:

The concept, Panera Cares, has four locations across the county.  The most successful venture is in Chicago where, according to the company, roughly 20 percent of Panera Cares customers give more than they’re asked.  60 percent donate the suggested amount, and the rest pay less or nothing.

I’d like to believe that most people would feel good about patronizing their favorite chain restaurant and participating, with 100% of donation going to local charities.  Of course there are people who would take advantage of the “free” loophole, but that’s true in all facets of life.

It’d be great to see other big corporations test out this model.  After all, it’s hard to imagine more powerful strategy to generate brand loyalty.  I don’t choose to frequent large chain restaurants and establishments very often, but I would be tempted to bypass the local coffee shop–once in a while–to go to a Louisville Panera or Starbucks if the location operated on a non-profit basis.

And it’s not the first time I’ve noticed Panera doing good community work.  Back in Concord, NH–where I grew up–my dad would make a run to Panera most Sunday nights to pick up day-old bagels and bread for free.  He’d load up the trunk of his Honda Civic and bring the leftovers to the elementary school where he served as principal for many years.  The school served a large percentage of the city’s refugee families and other needy children.  I’ve got to give credit to those large corporations that seem to have a community-based ethos.

Another reason I like this idea is the fact that companies will eventually have to shift from a no-holds-barred growth model to something more sustainable and creative.  Even Wal-Mart.  There are only so many more locations where the mega-retailer can open up.  There is a finite amount of oil to process and convert into cheap appliances and trinkets made in China.

What do you think?  Could other massive retail-food operations attempt this model?  Do you have any examples that highlight how big business is doing good work in your community?


  1. Yes, Panera is a very community and socially conscious organization! Their daily food donations to non-profits are a generous and effective way to disburse left over food each day to appreciative and needy families.

    On Thu, Sep 20, 2012 at 6:37 PM, Mindful Stew

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