Thirty years ago, Panera Bread founder Ron Shaich wanted to improve the fast dining experience. Over the years he became a leader in the fast-casual movement, working to make warmth, deliciousness, and trust key elements of the Panera experience.

Today Panera is a multi-billion dollar restaurant chain in the middle of an 18-month innovation and service-based revamp called Panera 2.0, a multifaceted strategy to differentiate themselves from their fast-casual competitors and improve the guest experience.

According to a 2011 Experian Marketing Services Survey, the typical Panera customer is female (their target customer is 24-54 years old), has a higher than-average income, and is working towards a healthier lifestyle. The Panera customer also seems to be technologically savvy.

There are three consumer-facing elements I want to critique: MiSeat at Panera (pilot), the Panera mobile app (iOS), and the Panera kiosk tablets.

A full critique isn’t possible without detailed information on user demographics and the development process, but as users, development professionals, and Panera customers ourselves, my colleagues and I at Lextech have some insights to share.

MiSeat at Panera Internet Terminal Tables

What it is

The MiSeat is a customizable internet terminal and touch screen solution. The keyboard, cursor control, and wireless phone charger are integrated into the glass countertop. Panera is currently testing these at two locations in the Chicago area.

What It Does Well

It’s good that Panera is investing in new technologies and using the connected technology effectively as part of customer experience. At one point, Panera was the country’s largest provider of free WiFi. Perhaps with the advent of their 30-minute WiFi limit during peak hours Panera wanted to offer an internet option that afforded them branding opportunities. Further, Panera knows their tech savvy customers appreciate the wireless charging and might be dazzled by the keyless keyboard integrated into the glass countertop.

What Could Be Improved

We visited the North Michigan Avenue location twice within two weeks. Both times half or more of the eight terminals were non-operational or only partly operational (keyboard/mouse not working). If special instructions or permissions were needed, there was no clear signage for troubleshooting, and no staff member attentive to the area near the terminals. This is a massive user experience problem. One might expect pilot products to malfunction, but there should be associates attentive to the new retail feature. This encounter with the MiSeat terminal left us confused and frustrated. Providing technology that is unreliable or has a bad user experience is worse than providing no technology at all because it raises our expectations and leaves them unfulfilled.

Panera Consumer Mobile App (iOS & Android)

What it is

Panera has a consumer-facing mobile app for iOS and Android. The current version has 4.5/5 stars in the Apple Store and 3.7/5 stars in the Google Play store.

What It Does Well (Focusing on iOS app)

The Panera app is excellent overall and provides a good user experience. The style, typeface choices, icons, etc. are all on-brand and the copy is well written.

The Panera app is excellent overall and provides a good user experience

One very notable thing about the app is its speed and overall performance, which is excellent. The menu clearly presents the three main options: Order, Locations, and Menu, and it places a priority on the home screen for signing up for their loyalty program and signing in.

The ordering and product screens are intuitive, well laid out, and provide good descriptions (including ingredients) about each menu item. Each menu item is customizable (including add-on items like avocado or extra protein), which, according to media reports, has resulted in higher sales. Customer bonuses like Favorite Orders, Order History, and Profile are great as well. The app also integrates with Apple Pay, HealthKit, and TouchID (after initial sign in and TouchID authorization), three very valuable features of iOS 8 that retail companies should be maximizing.

What Could Be Improved

There are four small but important details that stand out as needing improvement.

  • Text size: On the iPhone 6, which is certainly not the smallest of screens, the body text and even some of the headers are on the small side. Many people may not have issues with this. There is so much information and text in the app (no doubt to reinforce transparency goals and the healthy eating brand) that this may have influenced their typeface choices. Age may skew younger, but the typeface is still fairly small. There’s no ability to pinch to zoom or adjust text size within the app.
  • Sign up form too long: Sign up forms should be as short as possible to optimize the user experience and increase sign ups. Country and birthdate don’t seem necessary to this initial sign up. If the birthday is related to a loyalty reward scheme, the value proposition should be placed in the form next to or under the field header (“Receive a free birthday meal”).
  • Home page button inconsistencies: We’d also change a small infringement on UI best practices. There is a back button on some pages, but not on others, and the same is true with the home button.
  • Customer satisfaction quick rating: Any interaction with mobile is a chance to capture and measure customer satisfaction. After food pick up and a certain period of time passing, a text or email could be sent to the customer asking for a quick number or star-based rating.

Panera iPad Kiosks

What it is

Panera started phasing in iPad order kiosks mid-2014. They function similarly to the consumer app for order placement and payment. According to company marketing, kiosk ambassadors should be present (much like a grocery store) in case of questions or difficulties.

What It Does Well

The kiosks directly address one of Panera’s longest standing customer pain points: the order line and mosh pit-style pickup area. The kiosks follow similar UI/UX patterns as the consumer mobile app. They also integrate the loyalty program with an email sign-in that customizes the experience (and potentially offers rewards). It has most of the same product features and ordering ease. At the close of the order, you pick up your pager, scan it, and swipe your card for payment. At the end of this process, you take a seat, and your pager matches up with an RFID chip in the table, letting the food delivery associates know where you’re located. What a “Wow” user experience!

What Could Be Improved
  • Kiosk ambassadors absent: Panera leadership indicate in media interviews that kiosk ambassadors should be visibly present near the kiosks to help direct and aid anyone in need. When we recently visited the Downers Grove location, there didn’t seem to be a kiosk ambassador present. Great idea. Poor execution.
  • Lack of Apple Pay integration: Those who want to use Apple Pay are forced to go to the traditional cashiers because kiosk terminals only have a swipe feature—there’s no RFID integration for Apple Pay. With loyalty program integration coming in iOS 9, Panera should strongly consider adding RFID readers/ Apple Pay integration to their kiosks. Apple Pay/loyalty program integration should be a priority going forward for both the consumer mobile app and kiosk.
  • Customer satisfaction quick rating: Panera has 19 million loyalty members. For those who sign in at the kiosks, they could also be emailed or texted for a quick satisfaction survey.

Bottom Line

Panera has a respected and highly recognizable brand, and they appear to be on the right track with Panera 2.0. Based on our research, Panera would place in stage 3 out of 5 on the mobile maturity scale (where phase 1 = little or no mobile presence and phase 5 = a fully developed mobile strategy that includes consumer facing as well as internal process apps). They have a mobile strategy and some great apps, but they lack a seamless, consistent in-store user experience. We would also love to know how they are using mobile apps to provide an increasing Return on App (ROA) on the consumer end. They don’t appear to understand the power of mobile for operations and internal processes.

If Panera wants to rise above the competition, increase profitability, and solidify a place among the innovation elite, they need to improve their overall mobile user experience and think about the seamless, integrated, “it just works” kind of deployment on display in Apple stores. We’re looking forward to seeing if they overcome these challenges in Panera 2.1.

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