Panera Bread’s Service Experience

For Prof. Molly Wright Steenson’s Design for Service class at Carnegie Mellon University, I chose to document Panera Bread as a service ecology. I spent about an hour sitting near the counter, observing the interactions between customers and associates at one of the locations in Pittsburgh. It was around 6 in the evening, so I was observing the service at around dinnertime.

The service begins with the customer approaching the counter, usually standing in line. An associate will ask if that customer is ready to order. This is one of the first physical touch points. The associate will ask what the customer wishes to order. After placing the order and paying, the associate hands a buzzer to the customer notifying when their order is ready to be picked up at the counter. When the order is ready to be picked up by the customer, the buzzer vibrates, and the customer grabs their order. There can be another interaction between the customer and the associate that prepares the customer’s order. When the customer receives their food, they sit down at a table, finish their meal, return their trays, plates, and utensils, and leave the location.

While Panera continues to use a traditional brick-and-mortar service, they also use digital interactions to improve the customer experience. For instance, customers can order their food from Panera’s website. They have the option of ordering their food and picking it up themselves, Panera delivering their order, and even allowing customers to order their food within the location without having to speak to any associate. I found this third option fascinating in that it attempts to eliminate any social interaction between customers and the associates. There is even a mobile application that allows you to order food from any smartphone.

My biggest take-away from this assignment was that service industries are utilizing both physical and digital interactions to improve upon their services. I want to learn more about how service ecologies can benefit from the combination of digital and physical interactions.