Food Daily Dish

Panera experiments with pay-what-you-want meals

Imagine you could pay whatever you wanted for your lunch. Regardless of the menu price, you could give the cashier whatever cash you had in your wallet. It could be $10, $5, $1 or even nothing.

That's the idea behind the pay-what-you-want Panera cafes in St. Louis. The brand launched the concept three years ago with five cafes and has expanded the system to all Panera locations in St. Louis, the Associated Press reported.

At all 48 cafes, customers can name their price for one menu item: the turkey chili in a bread bowl. The suggested menu price is $5.89, but customers are free to pay whatever they can for the chili.

Panera isn't the only restaurant to offer this payment option. It's already happening in Southern California. Cafe Gratitude, the vegan cafe chain lists a single menu item for payment-by-donation every day. 

The pay-what-you-want program relies on people's honesty and integrity and may work fine with a single item, but what happens when it's applied to the entire menu?

Kate Antonacci of Panera Bread Foundation said that at the five existing nonprofit cafes where the pay-what-you-want program is in place for the full menu, approximately 60% of customers pay the suggested retail price.

No word on whether Panera will bring the experiment to its locations in other states.

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