Panera’s Next Generation Café Design Highlights Changing Consumer Behaviors

Panera Bread rolls out a new store concept––with designs that reflect the changing demands of consumers in the pandemic era and beyond.
Next Gen Cafe Panera

The newly designed store, located in Ballwin, Missouri, features an updated and modern aesthetic to simplify the guest experience. Working with retail brand experience agency ChangeUp, Panera has created a next-generation café-bakery, offering more ways to order, more focus on drive-thru and a redesign that puts the bakery experience right in front of the customer.

Next Gen Design


To revitalize the dine-in experience, the new Panera store creates a “bakery theatre,” with the the bakery ovens at the front of house where guests can see and smell the breads and pastries baking, Rob Sopkin, chief development officer at Panera Bread, told Retail Leader.

The café also has more focus on digital options for diners, including options to order with a cashier, a kiosk or through a double-lane drive-thru with a dedicated lane for Rapid PickUp orders. Customers can also order through their phone and take advantage of an entirely contactless experience. The options bridge the digital and physical touchpoints for guests that capitalize on the demands realized through the pandemic while also creating a more convenient experience. 

“The pandemic accelerated a shift we were already seeing toward off-premise and digital. That’s why we designed the Next Gen bakery-cafe with an enhanced digital experience and a strong drive-thru focus,” Sopkin told Retail Leader. “These features enable us to cater to the rise in digital and off-premise ordering, but we’ve also innovated the dining experience as well, providing our guests with the option for completely contactless dining.”

The top design changes all stem from consumer needs––meeting convenience, elevating the dining experience and integrating physician and digital touchpoints.

“Convenience is king,” ChangeUp’s Executive Creative Director Jamie Cornelius told Retail Leader. “Creating a small footprint store allowed space to be dedicated to a double drive-thru, better servicing those guests ordering through the MyPanera app. Convenience remained top of mind throughout the design process, from updated ordering kiosks to a fully digitized menu, both in-café and in drive-thru. We prioritized innovations that would ensure a seamless journey for both the customers and employees.”

The placement of the bakery was also important for the dining experience. Elevating in-store and dining experiences has been a rising trend as consumers return to stores and restaurants as pandemic restrictions have eased. Putting the bakery front and center for the diner solidifies Panera Bread’s identity, creates a springboard for the customer journey and enhances the overall feeling of the space, Cornelius said.

Consumer Demands


Panera is not the first to experiment with new store designs, and the rapid change among consumers brought on by the pandemic has led many restaurants and retailers alike to leverage new store concepts that better cater to the emerging trends.

The fast pace was also part of the design process, with testing being a critical part of the concept changes.

“It’s imperative to test, learn and implement quickly,” Cornelius said. “It was a continual process of testing and learning. … We partnered with their team on a mock-up and VR experience so they could quickly make decisions internally across departments. Ultimately, working with the cross-functional teams in an iterative process allowed us to move quickly, which is imperative with the ever-changing customer needs.”

Panera examined how consumer demands were changing to create the next-generation design and asked guests directly what they wanted. 

“We closely studied the shifting guest patterns that were already happening prior to the pandemic and then accelerated after the pandemic, for example the rapid rise of drive-thru and delivery sales,” Sopkin said. “Part of that research included our own guests––asking them directly how they view us, what channels are the most convenient and what are they looking for when choosing a food experience. All of this came together to inform several elements of the new design.”

Panera did not divulge its plans to retrofit existing bakeries, but the new designs are easy to update into existing stores, according to Sopkin.