Why are People Scared of the Panera Kiosk?

Quinn Rutledge
Jan 23, 2018 · 4 min read

Yesterday I ate dinner at Panera Bread. This is a rare experience for me as the food quantity to price ratio is, in my opinion, too skewed in the direction of price (also the food isn’t that good).

Don’t be fooled, that spoon is actually tiny.

On the rare occasion where I do find myself eating at a Panera, I always order at the kiosk. Mostly because it feels like I get to pilot a futuristic sandwich command center, but it also skips the line. There have been times where I have seen a line of 10+ people waiting to order and nobody at the kiosks. It is odd to me how few people actually order at these screens. From my small sample size I would estimate that 10% of orders at Panera are made on the tablet.

This got me wondering, why? There are serious advantages to using the kiosk. First and most obvious, you get to skip the line. Second, the machine is much less likely to mess up your order. Third, there are pictures of the food right there on the screen (these pictures are nowhere else on any of the menus, I checked) and sometimes there are options that are not even on the main menu. To me this is an objectively better experience, but if people aren’t using it, it must not be good enough.

What’s so Bad About the kiosk?

Granted the interface is not the best, but it’s not the worst either. It feels much more friendly than using Facebook nowadays. I can’t see that being the deal breaker here.


Another thing is that Panera doesn’t seem to be pushing this as the main method for ordering. The kiosks are always placed off to the side under a little “order here” sign, but they’re definitely not hidden. The company obviously poured a huge amount of money into creating this system, so why not cut the labor costs of the cashiers and go all in on the digital kiosk?

If Panera really wanted to they could pull an Apple and take out all the cashier stations. This would force people to use the kiosks. They would definitely lose some business, but some might argue that is the cost of innovation.

They’re Just Not Good Enough.

This version of the kiosk might work for a company like McDonald’s where a screen is often infinitely more polite than a cashier. But in the case of Panera, they have a premium on their product because of the high quality experience. People go to Panera and pay more money than they should for their food because it feels good to get ripped off. They like going to the counter and looking at all the pastries and the fresh bread then ordering their tiny little sandwich and a $4 cookie.

Refining the Experience.

If Panera’s end goal is to go fully for the kiosk system (which it probably is), I like the way that they are going about it. Putting them into the store and giving the consumer the option to use it. All the while gathering feedback and improving the experience to a point where it is good enough to replace a cashier. This doesn’t mean just good enough for people like me (they probably don’t care about people like me), but good enough for the old people who come in and eat brunch every Wednesday or good enough for the mom with three kids who doesn’t have time to figure out how this whole thing works.

They are performing a sort of public facing beta. Taking what they can learn from the people who do use the kiosks and using that information to make the experience incrementally better. It is certainly not a novel idea, but I’ve never seen anything like it in the food industry.

What can we learn?

I would like to know who asked for this “feature”

Almost every startup guru preaches about the glory of customer feedback. This sort of thing feels like it’s missing in a lot of larger companies. The strategy employed by Panera here is refreshing when compared to a slash and burn strategy where you let your customers pick up the pieces after you’re finished with all of your “innovation” (cough cough Apple).

Had Panera gone all in on the first version of their kiosk, people would’ve hated it. But they didn’t and they won’t until it is a friendly experience for their customers. They are slowly integrating this new feature into their restaurants until it becomes a core part of their customer experience.

When it comes to disrupting an age old consumer behavior like ordering from the cashier, slow incremental change is the best way to go about it.

What do you think about these kiosks, are they the future? Let me know in the comments below and if you liked this story don’t hesitate to throw me some claps or a share.

Thanks to Alayna O'Bryan

Quinn Rutledge

Written by

My 🔥🔥🔥 perspective on games, music, and tech.

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