The AP reports that the expansion is a test to see how the pay-what-you-want model works on a larger scale. Thus, St. Louis Paneras will only have to deal with people paying random amounts for one item — Turkey Chili in a Bread Bowl, which has a suggested price of $5.89.
“We hope the suggested donations offset those who say they only have three bucks in their pocket or leave nothing,” Ron Shaich, Panera founder, chairman and co-CEO tells the AP, adding that the company hasn’t set a timetable on when it will determine whether or not this is an idea worth keeping and/or expanding nationwide.
At the few stores where all the menu prices are merely suggestions, Panera says that around 60% of customers pay the menu rate, while the remaining 40% is split about evenly between those paying less and those who fork over a few extra bucks for their meal. The company says that even though these stores only bring in about 70-80% of the sales that a regular Panera does, they are still profitable, though those profits are folded back into a job-training program.
There has been a bit of backlash in some areas where Panera has pay-what-you want cafes. In both Portland, OR, and Chicago, some nearby residents complained that the eateries were attracting customers who used the establishments as places to grab a free bite then hang out. Both locations remain open, as do the Panera Cares cafes in Boston and Dearborn, MI.