Friday, May 21, 2010

Panera Picks Up the Tab

Pay-what-you-can just might be catching on. A year ago on this blog, we profiled a local diner in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that responded to the economic downturn by inviting customers to shell out only what they could afford for lunch, dinner or breakfast. Then on Wednesday, I wrote about the online video game company Wolfire, who recently offered a package of games for sale at a price named by the customer, then donated a healthy chunk of the profits to charity. Now comes news that Panera Bread, the popular bakery cafe chain, has spearheaded a new pay-what-you-can restaurant in a suburb of St. Louis.

As the Associated Press reported this week, the new cafe, run by a Panera-sponsored non-profit foundation, will be called St. Louis Bread Co. Cares. The pay-what-you-can establishment features the parent company's signature menu. True to its advertising, the cafe allows customers to pay whatever they can afford for their meal, ranging from a penny to the full suggested menu price of the items.

The cafe's motto, hanging on a sandwich board over the counter, reads, "Take what you can, leave your fair share."

Such restaurants, like the concept, aren't new. That said, Panera's effort marks the first time a national chain has attempted a long-term pay-what-you-can initiative. In coming months, should the cafe cover its expenses and prove a sustainable model, Panera hopes to open a similar restaurant in major markets throughout the country.

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