The Unexpected Reason People Used To Eat At Panera Bread

In 2020, as everyone remains cooped up in their home due to various coronavirus restrictions, the idea of stopping in at a restaurant for the sole purpose of using their WiFi might seem quaint. However, that was the function Panera Bread served for many during the 2000s when widespread WiFi had yet to be achieved.

According to Restaurant New Resource 2004 report, Panera Bread had become the largest provider of free WiFi in the United States at the time. "Customer response to the convenience and reliability of our free Wi-Fi Internet access has greatly exceeded our expectations and we believe it is positively impacting our business," Ron Shaich, Panera Bread chairman and chief executive officer, raved. "Offering free Wi-Fi Internet access is keeping our customers in our stores longer — primarily during off-peak hours — and bringing them back more often, enhancing their experience of Panera Bread's quick casual environment." 

During this time, internet usage in Panera Bread restaurants increased three-fold with hundreds of thousands of people accessing their WiFi.

Panera Bread's still helping customers connect

For a few, however, Panera Bread pushed the free WiFi from their restaurants to the home. On September 10, 2020, the International Business Times wrote that Panera Bread would pay for a month's worth of WiFi for the first 2,020 people who signed up for their MyPanera + Coffee subscription. The subscription service — the launch of which Doctor of Credit covered in March of this year — gives members the opportunity to get a free coffee of any flavor and size once every two hours with free refills while you are still in the café for a monthly payment of $8.99. 

More importantly, for those who need access to WiFi, is the fact that, while running the promotion that promised to pay customers' WiFi bills, Panera Bread also expanded their WiFi access to accommodate social distancing rules. Now it reaches the curbside area and parking lot. "Panera's free, unlimited, premium coffee can help get you through the day, and the added bonus of Panera's Wi-Fi enabled parking lots and Curbside pick-up can give you a few minutes to recharge and a quick meal solution," Eduardo Luz, Chief Brand and Concept Officer for Panera Bread, explained to The International Business Times. In doing so, Panera Bread has renewed its commitment to free WiFi in an era when many may see it as outdated.