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Panera Tries Pay-What-You-Want Menu Item

New chili price to be customer-determined


paneraBreadLogoPopular eatery Panera Bread (NASDAQ:PNRA) is embarking on a customer-driven experiment.

Certain of the chain’s restaurants — all 48 in the St. Louis area — are planning to offer chili at a price determined by what the customer wants to pay, reports the Associated Press.

The specific product is the chain’s Turkey Chili in a Bread Bowl. It sells for a suggested retail price of $5.89 in the Missouri market but under the new program — which Panera is calling “Meal of Shared Responsibility” — customers pay what they feel the meal is worth to them. Any payment above the chain’s cost will go to help subsidized meals for those who pay less and to help St. Louis-area efforts to fight hunger.

“We hope the suggested donations offset those who say they only have three bucks in their pocket or leave nothing,” CEO Ron Shaich said. The chain says that, if the system works out, it will expand it to all 1,600 branches. However, there’s no timetable for that decision to be made and the chain would not commit to any specific type of roll out or target.

Currently, Panera runs five pay-what-you-want cafes around the country. At those locations, customers can order anything on the menu and pay what they feel they can afford. These stores bring in about 60%-70% of what a traditional restaurant does.

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