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Daily Dismal: Why did Panera Bread Begin Bussing Tables?

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Daily Dismal is a new feature that takes a look at some small facet of daily life and how decisions are made using smart, economic thinking.

The Setup:

Panera Bread, also known as the St. Louis Bread Company in some places, is a popular lunch spot for Yummy.thousands each day at one of their locations throughout the country. Up until recently, one part of
the Panera experience had been to take one’s plates, bowls and silverware up to a little bussing station that included a trash can. Yet recently these stations have disappeared and now a Panera employee will often offer to clear away plates from customers that look like they have finished their meals. Otherwise, customers are expected to just leave their plates and go.

Why the change?

Precious Metals

Certainly it costs money to use the time of an employee to clear away and clean tables. That’s why it’s long been a trend in cafeteria or sandwich-style places to have people clear their own plates: it takes a minimal amount of time on the part of the customer and saves the business the cost of perhaps employing someone purely to bus away plates. However, Panera’s self-bussing design created an issue. Back at the cafeteria, one would simply take their whole tray, trash and all, to a rack of some sort. Panera’s station had people separate their bowls and plates into one bin, silverware into another and their trash into the attached trash can. This led to a rash of accidentally throwing away the silverware with the food remainders. Part of Panera’s draw is that it feels upscale in part because the company uses chilled china and real, honest-to-goodness, metal utensils instead of the cheap plastic ones that break. Not wanting to give up this competitive advantage, but finding themselves constantly ordering replacement forks, knives and spoons, Panera decided there was a more elegant solution. A busser won’t accidentally throw away the utensils, and due to eliminating this cost, the additional expense necessary to employ a person seemed a little smaller. Having someone clear away the customers’ plates also enhanced value and may have raised customers’ perception of Panera as a quality restaurant, as well. At the end of the day, saving silver and pleasing customers turns out to be a better solution than trying to give their patrons bussing duty.


Written by caseyayers

4 October, 2008 at 11:59 am