Panera non-profit spinoff lets diners pay what they can

In a combination restaurant and social experiment, the national chain Panera Bread Co. has launched a not-for-profit spinoff called Panera Foundation. The Foundation runs restaurants that allow customers to pay as much as they like after a cashier informs them of the retail price of their meal. Armed with food and a receipt, customers are directed to a clear donation box, where they can contribute whatever they feel is fair, or can afford. Customers who can’t pay are asked to volunteer their time.

Panera donation box

Donation box at St. Louis Bread Co. Cares

Donations are used to cover operating costs and the cost of food going to those who pay less than the suggested price or nothing at all. Funds also will go to programs the company is developing for at-risk youth.

The flagship restaurant is in Clayton, Missouri, and goes by the name, St. Louis Bread Co. Cares. Locations outside the St. Louis area, where Panera was founded, will use the name, Panera Cares Cafe.

So far, customers have been generous, with some putting in as much $20 for a cup of coffee. Others have felt fortunate to feed their family at the end of a tough month.

Ron Shaich, former CEO of Panera Bread Co., heads up the new nonprofit. “My hope is that we can eventually do this in every community where there’s a Panera.” He has more locations planned to open within the coming months.

Do you think this could work where you live?

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