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While cafes across the nation will implement the added convenience, a majority of them will be equipped with geofencing technology, marking a first for a brand of this size, Panera CEO Niren Chaudhary told FOX Business.
If customers opt-in to the service, the cafe will get an alert the moment a customer drives into the vicinity of a Panera location. Employees will then take the order safely to the individual's car. Customers also have the option of placing the order outside the cafe themselves and having it delivered to their cars.
The company, known for its sandwiches and fresh baked goods, is also extending its WiFi service beyond cafe doors for customers waiting in their cars.
The added levels of convenience reflect the company's commitment to "meet the customers where they are at," Chaudhary said.
"They are distinctive and demonstrate our desire to challenge ourselves to do more than what customers are used to," he added.
The features build upon Panera's strong omnichannel presence and e-commerce infrastructure. Prior to the pandemic, 30 percent, or close to $2 billion of the chain's sales, were via mobile orders or through its website. Now, amid the global crisis, more than half its business is coming from e-commerce, according to Chaudhary.
Throughout the challenging macroeconomic environment, companies are increasingly looking for ways to sustain viability while keeping the safety of their staff and customers at the forefront.
This is the first step in the company's plan to slowly phase in operations as it welcomes back customers.
"Customers have told us they think of us as a second home where they come and they gather around great food, either on-premise or off-premise," he said.
Over the course of the next several weeks, the chain plans to implement dining room safety measures, including plexiglass barriers, screen covers on kiosks, frequent sanitization protocols, social distancing markers and separating tables to ensure on-going safety.
"While, on the one hand, we are all feeling uncertainty, anxiety and fear, it is also true that we are feeling more connection with our family," Chaudhary added. "We are more connected to our communities and we feel more responsible for the environment in which we live."
Since the outbreak, Panera shifted gears to helping feed frontline heroes as well as working with Feeding America to bring food to children who no longer have access to school lunches, as well as families who have faced lost jobs and incomes due to the pandemic.