Panera Expanding Pay-What-You-Want Model To All Of St. Louis, But Only On One Item

The original Panera Cares opened in 2010, in Clayton, MO.

The original Panera Cares opened in 2010, in Clayton, MO.

It’s been three years since sandwich chain Panera opened its first pay-what-you-want eatery, where customers can disregard the listed menu price and pay what they can afford or what they feel the meal is worth. The company soon added others in a handful in other cities. Now the eatery says it is expanding the model to all 48 Paneras in and around St. Louis, though it will only involve one menu item.

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.