Panera adds more drive-thrus while the industry moves toward gamification

Photo via Panera

One expert shares their loyalty program hacks

Don’t be surprised if sometime in the not so distant future, there won’t be a table inside a fast food restaurant where you can sit and enjoy a meal. Chains have been putting a lot of their hope on drive-thru business over the last few years, but now things are really starting to rev up.

Panera is the latest. While the company was built on the sit-down, dine-in crowd, it was also one of the early adopters of digital ordering via its in-cafe kiosks.

Now, it has officially joined the drive-thru rush and has added drive-thru pick-up nationwide, allowing customers to order ahead on the app or online and pick up their order at the drive-thru window. 

“Panera pioneered the idea of digital ordering in the restaurant industry, and for years, our guests have loved the option to order ahead and pick their items up on the Rapid Pick-Up shelf,” said Chris Correnti, senior vice president, Channels and Guest Experience, Panera Bread. “Now we’re extending that convenience to the drive-thru, giving our guests another fast and convenient way to get their favorite Panera meal.”

To try and convert the dine-in crowd over to its drive-thru lanes, the company is offering its MyPanera members $5 off any order of $15 or more through June 30 by by using code 5OFFDTPICKUP at checkout.

Gamification enters the picture

New data indicates that restaurants are having to face the harsh reality that their year-over-year same-store sales and traffic growth is continuing to fall. For the third consecutive month, softer sales have led the industry to the second-worst month it’s had – April 2023 – in over two years.

The reason? Customers aren’t spending as much and are also taking their business elsewhere. To fix the situation, chains aren't dropping prices, but rather are trying to improve the customer service experience.

A considerable amount of that effort will be driven by the "gamification" of loyalty rewards. Companies are being pretty crafty with their rewards efforts. Crafty in a way where customers have to jump through hoops to get certain benefits: rewards for signing up, different reward levels, generating FOMO (fear of missing out), experience-based rewards, etc.

For example, Panda Express' new points-based rewards program offers personalized ways for guests to "collect good fortune" from their visits. One example is that for every dollar spent, a customer gets 10 points, and when they’ve reached 200 points, they can start cashing in points for prizes.

Plus, each month, members can unlock a unique “good fortune” gift – special discounts, free points, a digital fortune cookie, and, of course, the typical free birthday gift.

What restaurants have the best loyalty programs?

What restaurant chains are doing the best job in the loyalty program realm? Based on the value of the perks being offered, how easy it is to participate, customer support and trustworthiness, the Krazy Coupon Lady includes these as her faves:

  • Starbucks
  • Red Robin
  • Chipotle
  • McDonald’s
  • Dunkin'
  • Red Lobster
  • Burger King
  • Chick-fil-A
  • Subway
  • Stone Cold Creamery
  • Denny's
  • Papa John's
  • TGI Friday's
  • IHOP
  • Firehouse Subs
  • PF Chang's
  • Jersey Mike's 
  • Dairy Queen
  • Jimmy John's
  • Noodles and Company

If you want to add to your collection of loyalty rewards, she also offers hacks on how to take advantage of each of those 21 programs.

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