In my area, Panera is a highly patronized workplace / hangout for corporate escapists and the self-employed, likely more so than the local Starbucks. Wi-fi access is free and unlimited, excepting the period between 11:00 AM and 1:30 PM, when it isn’t available at all.
11:00 AM to 1:30 PM is the lunch rush. Its prime time for the core service experience of preparing & serving sandwiches and soups to diners - who likely don’t want to compete with businesspeople nursing a coffee for an hour and a half.
Panera knows that their business runs on the mealtime rushes, particularly lunch. But it also knows it can improve profit by increasing demand in the “off-peak” times, and to attract them, it offers a business-friendly environment to people looking for a place to have a coffee and do some online work (or non-work).
Yet it is interesting that while they accommodate the coffee & wi-fi crowd when they have capacity to spare, they make it clear that this business is not preferable to the full meal purchasers that come for lunch. The steps they take – making the restaurant uninviting by turning off free wi-fi – sends a clear message to the as to their relative value as customers.
My questions are these: As a strategy for filling off-peak hours with incremental demand, Panera’s use of free wi-fi seems a good fit. But by clearly rejecting this group in favor of diners during the meal times, do they damage their experience to the spurned segment, and by extension, do they do their brand and long term damage? On the other hand, is this segment preference forgivable by the people who use the coffee and wi-fi experience? If it isn’t, should Panera care?
It's Thomas Midgeley day
7 hours ago