- Panera has opened up Panera Connects, which was previously only available through a catering representative when it was soft launched earlier this year, to MyPanera members. In a few weeks, anyone with a credit card will be able to use this program to provide a mealtime solution for online and virtual events, a company representative shared in an email.
- The fast casual company is also launching Panera Day at Work, which allows workers in a single location or office building to order individually but receive their meals delivered together at a specific time slot and location.
- Panera claims it was the largest restaurant caterer in the country prior to the pandemic, but the COVID-19 crisis forced the chain to adapt its catering program so it can meet the needs of remote and hybrid work models.
Panera is looking to reclaim its catering business. By giving its more than 40 million loyalty members access to Panera Connects, the program will expand from its initial test of corporate and higher education clients to a much bigger audience, according to CNBC. Once it is available to anyone with a credit card, the program will expand beyond businesses and will be available for remote personal celebrations, such as baby showers or graduations.
Chris Correnti, Panera's senior vice president of off-premise channels, told CNBC that it is able to cater for virtual events because it has over 2,200 locations in the U.S. The company has already catered meetings with hundreds of employees across the country, Correnti said.
The program allows virtual event hosts to provide vouchers to attendees, who then can order online. Individual meals are then delivered to each attendee and the organizer is billed only for event codes redeemed, according to the company.
Panera's second initiative, Panera Day at Work, is meant to provide office workers with a replacement for cafeterias, which have not all reopened in office buildings. Employees can order their meals at a discounted delivery rate and they are all delivered at the same time.
Panera has made other pivots during the last year as well, including a double drive-thru design, which will debut in November. During the pandemic, 85% of Panera's business was through off-premise channels, and each new Panera unit or remodel will feature this design.
The catering industry, which was once a $60 billion business pre-pandemic, had a difficult time adapting over the last year because it is more costly to deliver catered meals to individuals across town versus at a single location, according to The Washington Post. Some caterers tried meal delivery and food trucks, but these efforts couldn't bridge the sales gap.
Some restaurant chains turned their catering menus into family bundles to try and recoup lost revenue, and around two-thirds of chain operators suspended their catering programs in the early months of the pandemic.