Experiment Fails Again

by baldilocks

Who could have predicted this?

While Panera Cares billed itself as a “non-profit” restaurant designed to feed low-income people, the business model was anything but. Rather than create a charitable organization that distributes food to needy families or a discount outlet or even a $1 menu (like every other fast-food restaurant), Panera tried to create a socialist system in which meals were offered at a suggested donation price. That means some people would pay more while others would pay less based on what they felt like or could afford. By not simply offering food at a low price (hat-tip, Dollar Tree), Panera completely removed any incentive for patrons to meet even the lowest standards of consumer/retailer exchange. The result: some people paid their fair share while others enjoyed a “free lunch.” (…)

Panera Cares went on to open five locations in cities like Dearborn, Portland, Chicago, Boston, and St. Louis. None of the restaurants were self-sustaining, with some locations reportedly being “mobbed” by students along with homeless people looking for a free meal.

“The Portland-based Panera Cares was reportedly only recouping between 60 and 70 percent of its total costs,” reports Eater. “The losses were attributed to students who ‘mobbed’ the restaurant and ate without paying, as well as homeless patrons who visited the restaurant for every meal of the week. The location eventually limited the homeless to ‘a few meals a week.'”

The last Panera Cares – in Boston – will close in ten days.

I remember when Panera launched this PWYW concept and resolved to stay out of there (I didn’t know at the time that LA wasn’t one of the chosen cities.) It was easy to see who would take advantage and what would become of the restaurants. See: Starbucks’ bathroom policy and public libraries.

Credit, however, must be given to the majority owners of Panera, however. There are a lot of proponents of socialism among the owner/CEO class, but few are willing to lay their bottom line on the altar so openly. Shareholder revolt? Probably.

I won’t even ask whether other big corporate owners will learn from this. There’s only so much virtue signaling most are willing to display.

Juliette Akinyi Ochieng has been blogging since 2003 as baldilocks. Her older blog is here.  She published her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game in 2012.

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