By the end of the year, Panera will have opened two more cafes that look and feel just like any of chain’s other branches. But at the new locations, customers will be able to pay whatever they want for the food – even nothing at all.
At a time of high unemployment, when about one in every seven American households is known as “food insecure,” Panera is joining a small but growing group of restaurants serving meals that are literally priceless.
Operated through Panera’s nonprofit 501c3 foundation rather than the commercial Panera Bread Co., the cafes will post suggested donation amounts for its sandwiches and soups, said spokeswoman Kate Antonacci.
“It’s sort of a test of human nature, sort of a psychological experiment,” she said.
Panera already has three other such cafes – which began opening in 2010 – in Clayton, Mo.; Portland, Ore.; and Dearborn, Mich. Those eateries usually break even, with up to 20% of customers paying more than the recommended amount and 20% paying less.