Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Unbusiness-like Business

This past week, CBS Sunday Morning News reported on a very unbusiness-like concept at the restaurant chain called Panera Bread Bakery-Cafe.  I researched the company and discovered that in two of their stores, prices are not set by management.  Instead, customers are asked to make a donation.  Suggested amounts are displayed, but not enforced. 

The company wanted to help the communities during this economic downturn.  They banked on the character of their customers and created Panera Cares.  Customers are asked to pay whatever they can; which in turn, allows the bakery to serve the less fortunate.  The company said they wanted to make sure everyone got a meal whether they could afford it or not.  Skeptics said it would not work.  It made no business sense and the stores would go broke.  They said people would not donate the suggested amount, but less more. 

In the seven months since the first store opened, it has become financially stable.  The manager reported that they are able to pay for supplies, rent, and labor with no problem.  Approximately 60% of customers donate the suggested amount, 20% pay more, and 20% pay less.  One customer who was interviewed reported that she was working part-time.  Most of the time she paid the suggested amount, but occasionally needed to pay less to be able to feed her children.

I think this is a wonderful concept.  We all make donations to help others.  Our family receives approximately three phone calls a week asking for donations.  You know the drill.  They act like they are your best friend and then ask if they can count on you for the $35 or $45 amount.  As if there were no other options.  It would be much easier to donate a dollar or two every time I ate out.  The donations would add up quickly for a restaurant that serves several hundred customers a day.  I also like the idea of trusting our fellow man to do the right thing.  I think that used to be called "On Your Honor".  I am proud, but not surprised, to see that Americans still have honor.
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