Panera Extends Coffee Subscription As Summer Freebie

Panera Bread is looking for yet another way to pep up its customers, now offering its coffee subscription service for free for the whole summer.

The caffeinated freebie -- pausing the $9 monthly fee -- is available to current subscribers and anyone who signs up before July 4 using a #FREECOFFEE4SUMMER hashtag.

Panera first launched the innovative coffee subscription plan in late February, before the pandemic forced restaurant closures. It’s a sweet and simple deal: People can get their coffee any way they like it -- any size, flavor, hot or iced, once every two hours, via the chain’s website, app or in its cafes.

And for consumers still not ready to venture inside a restaurant? The freebies are also available for order via curbside service and contactless delivery, with some restrictions.

The company describes its My Panera + coffee subscription as an effort to “eliminate the price barrier and false choices between premium coffee and delicious food.” And it hopes the summertime freebie is an added enticement as consumers gradually make their way back to semi-normal-ish restaurant behavior.

It will be interesting to see how popular the program proves. Consumers are heading back to restaurants as states reopen.

For the week ending June 14, the NPD Group reports that total major restaurant chain transactions are down 12% compared to the same week a year ago. And while that is just 1% better than the prior week, it marks the ninth consecutive improvement year-over-year. QSR restaurants also improved slightly, with a decline of 11% compared to a dip of 13% the week before.

The NPD Group says it doesn’t see any signs that the rise in Covid-19 cases is causing people to hold back, even in states with the biggest increases.

“There are three main variables that will influence continued restaurant recovery,” says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor, in its weekly analysis. The three factors are “reopening of on-premise dining and expanding allowed capacity; the willingness of consumers to dine out and feel safe and confident in doing so; and the economic well-being of the consumer. Thus far, the evidence in restaurant transactional improvement confirms that dining rooms are opening, and there is consumer demand to fill opened restaurants.”

Free coffee in a safe environment just might be a hit.

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