Panera wants to keep customers around for dinner

Photo: Scott Olson (Getty Images)

When you think “Panera Bread,” a few things come immediately to mind: Soups, either served in a bread cavern or not. The pungent bagel smell that greets you upon passing through the door. Small local organizations having their monthly meetings in a random corner of the establishment. Free WiFi. What you might not immediately think of, however, is dinner. And apparently, Panera’s hoping to change that.

A Nation’s Restaurant News article outlines the deli-and-bagel chain’s plans for all-day expansion, in an effort to keep locations bustling after the coffee-and-WiFi crowd thins out by the afternoon. While most locations are currently open in the evening, the chain plans to test a slew of new items in single locations, beginning in July: “The menu will consist of hot sandwiches along with three new product categories for Panera: flatbreads, bowls and seasonal sides.” In talking about Panera breaking into a new day-part (the time of day on which an establishment focuses its efforts), NRN notes that “bakery-café is a loosely defined segment with competition from all sides. Coffee shops compete for the breakfast daypart. Fast-casual chains compete for lunch. Looking to a new daypart makes sense, but it can be tricky.”

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Panera is discovering what many chains have learned: Try to take over all hours of the dining day. It manifests differently in other restaurant types, but these all-day changes are becoming increasingly visible, whether in IHOP pushing its burger offerings, Starbucks turning itself into a rival bakery-café in recent years, or McDonald’s making its breakfast menu available 24 hours a day. Taco Bell will fix you a breakfast burrito, and Chipotle gunning for late-night customers. Dunkin’s branding itself away from donuts. Jamba renouncing the juice. When every restaurant is hell-bent on making sure that the business never leaves, the priority is now to make sure that there’s a reason to stay.

Panera will test its 10 new items in Lexington, Kentucky next month, and in Providence, Rhode Island in September.

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