What a great business plan it should have been. Offer a subscription for a good that typically is marked up at 80% as a national average. People would pay the subscription fee, get to the coffee shop, and casually pick up breakfast or a bagel or some other item while they are already there. Genius.
Panera had been advertising its coffee service with a campaign that seemed to attack competitors. Specifically Starbucks and other specialty coffee shops. The ads ran as a series of people tired of waiting in line behind individuals ordering complex drinks. The ads targeted your average coffee drinker. Someone like myself. There is no need for sweeteners, cream, sugar, whip cream, skinny, no-fat, whatever the case. I just want to quickly grab my coffee and kindly exit, or better yet, drive off.
Then, Panera introduced its unlimited coffee subscription plan. Every two hours, you could get a fresh cup of coffee for a monthly fee. Originally priced at $8.99, the math worked out to about 4 cups of coffee. It made sense to me. There was a Panera on my way to work, and I worked an average of 20-days per month in the office. A coffee each day on my way in was well worth the subscription fee.
Things went wrong
At first, the subscription service worked well. I never had to wait for my coffee since it was always freshly brewed and ready to go, and I could enjoy a cup no matter what time of day it was. No more long lines or waiting for my drink; all I had to do was show up, type in my phone number, and then my coffee would be ready instantly.
Then, as the pandemic restrictions lifted, more people started showing up at the coffee shop.
Remember, Panera had the advertisement about just wanting the coffee.
Things went wrong for me because the food ordering at Panera is painfully slow, especially if you’re the person that is second in line. Even more frustrating, Panera was on my way to work which meant that I was typically time-crunched.
Knowing how slow the process was, If I saw one car in the drive-through, I would bypass Panera altogether. I got stuck behind someone in the drive-through line one too many times. The waiting, just for one simple cup of coffee, seemed foolish.
I’ll go inside
The same thing occurred there for me. Unfortunately, I would seem to always get behind someone in line who wanted to stare at the menu with no situational awareness that people were waiting behind them.
It seemed that nothing I could do quickly got me a simple cup of coffee.
I get that people are drawn to a restaurant for simple pleasures, such as coffee, and may want an occasional sandwich. However, we should encourage a separate pull-off area for people waiting on food orders. Or not allow food orders at the drive-through window.
Perhaps we could someday get a coffee and express lane for beverage service only.
That would relieve some congestion, and I’d gladly pay a slightly higher subscription fee for that convenience.
But until then, I have unsubscribed from Panera’s unlimited coffee service. I still brew my coffee and take it to work with me every day. Occasionally, if there are no cars in the drive-through, I’ll swing through a Panera. After all, I still enjoy Panera, just not when I’m pressed for time.
Unfortunately, the lack of convenience in a busy world has prevented me from enjoying another subscription service.