Jeepers. Just watch this CNBC video.
Okay, I know you don’t have time to watch it so I’ll boil it down: the CEO of Panera manages to enunciate, efficiently, things that kinda bothered me about Panera but I hadn’t put in the time to really express in conscious, rational language: everybody uses one line, you shuffle over to what he calls “the mosh pit” to retrieve your food, but you’re not sure which food is yours, and your drinks are over here—he’s right. That’s an unpleasant moment in an otherwise pleasant experience.
So he’s going to fix that before he wades into any elephants-trampling-you-during-wartime mixed metaphor:
“My basic thesis is when there’s a war going on, don’t get trampled by the elephants,” said Ron Shaich, the chain’s founder, chairman and CEO, in an in-person interview. “Don’t try to beat them. Be who you are.”
Anyway, now that he’s appeared on CNBC to remind me how long it takes and how confusing it is to get your food at Panera, his solution is looking like a high-tech boop-boop-de-boop self-guided e-solution. Maybe there are those whom that works for—the to-go customers are the ones it’s aimed at—but I don’t that I imagine Panera’s prime target as wanting to take control of their experience. I think they go there to relax and let someone else handle the world for awhile.
That’s why their decor and comfort food combo has worked, in my opinion: they solve a big problem, which is the modern world is a wearying place. Generally, they seem to understand their role in our lives. Now they’re modern-ing it up.
Maybe we’ve come far enough for that to work. Maybe some Millennials who aren’t all carb- and gluten-free will join the moms and lady lunchers who seem to be, from my experience, the suburban bread-and-butter of this cross between Starbucks and Chipotle. Maybe.