How a Restaurant With No Cash Registers and No Prices Makes Money

A Panera Cares Café looks just like any one of the other 1600 Panera locations around the United States: the same striped awnings, the same comfortable booths, the same ridiculously tasty Cobblestone Rolls that will add ten pounds if you so much as look at them.

But look closer and you’ll notice something unusual for a restaurant chain that brings in more than $3 billion each year. There are no prices listed next to items on the menu boards and no cash registers. Instead, donation boxes sit on the counter, with signs telling customers: “Take what you need; leave your fair share.” Panera cashiers take meal orders, hand patrons receipts indicating how much the items would normally cost, and let them decide how much to leave in the donation box or to take off their credit cards.

Panera Bread opened its first pay-what-you-can store in a St. Louis suburb in May 2010, and now operates five such cafés through its foundation. In 2013, these five locations are expected to serve more than 1 million people. Panera funds the initial conversion or build-out of a Cares Café and then donates it to the Panera Bread Foundation. From there, each café is expected to cover its operating and food costs.

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