Imagine a restaurant where food prices are only a mere suggestion. The man in front of you pays an extra dollar for his smokehouse turkey panini. You round up to the nearest dollar for your Asian sesame chicken salad. The woman behind you pays what she can, a dollar and some loose change for her broccoli cheddar soup.
Is this a utopian ideal of a concept, unrealistic and bound to fail? No. It is Panera Cares, a community café launched in St. Louis in May 2010. The concept is simple: customers pay what they can, offering more than the suggested price if they’d like or enjoying a free meal if finances are tight. Cashiers don’t take any money, they only make change. The customers themselves deposit their donation into a locked glass box.
Ron Shaich, the president of the Panera Bread Foundation, said, "Twenty percent of customers pay more than the suggested donation. Sixty percent leave the suggested donation and 20 percent leave less, typically significantly less."1
The cafés are an inventive approach to feeding the hungry. The idea was based off of the SAME Café, which opened in Denver in 2006, but putting the power of Panera behind it offers grander possibilities of impact and influence.
Since the pilot restaurant, Panera has opened two more locations in Dearborn, MI and Portland, OR. On February 23, 2012, Panera announced they would be finalizing the locations for at least two more of the cafés by spring.2
1 ABC News 2 MSN Money