Pay It Forward | Panera Cares

Panera Cares pay what you can cafe founded by Panera Bread in Boston
Image from Haverzine

Panera Bread Company was founded on principles of paying it forward and its operations demonstrate that it truly cares about the communities they serve.

Panera Bread owns and franchises over 1,900 bakeries-cafes throughout the United States and Canada. High quality delicious food is served within a cozy and welcoming environment. Many enjoy working or studying within their cafes due in part to the free WI-FI, but mainly because of the reasonably priced healthy food options.

Panera is best known for their warm, scrumptious, artisan breads that will easily tempt the most hardcore no carb people. The whole grain baguette straight out of the oven is my absolute favorite! The food is all-around good for you with their organic and all-natural ingredients, antibiotic-free chicken, and zero trans-fat.

Apart from serving wholesome foods to the communities surrounding them, Panera Bread sends its daily leftovers, an annual retail value of about $100 million, to homeless shelters. Yet, the giving doesn’t stop there.

Panera Bread Company started the Panera Bread Foundation, Inc., a charitable organization, to operate pay-what-you-can cafes called Panera Cares.

The vision for the Panera Cares cafe is to use Panera’s unique restaurant skills to address real societal needs, make a direct impact in communities and raise the issue of food insecurity.

At first glance, Panera Cares cafes are no different than the regular Panera Bread cafes. Inside a Panera Cares you will find the same friendly environment and delicious food selections, however there are no cash registers. Instead you get a receipt with a suggested donation amount, which is the same as the regular bakery-cafe prices, and you leave whatever cash amount you are able in one of the donation bins throughout the store.

The communities where Panera Cares operate are carefully selected to be eclectic enough to have community members that can help in sustaining the café by donating a bit more if they are able.

There is also a volunteer program for those who do not have the monetary means to donate for a meal.

It’s important that we find ways for the community to support our Panera Cares cafe, even if someone is unable to do so monetarily. That’s the purpose of our volunteer program. A customer can help perform basic front-of-the-house roles (like cleaning tables, sweeping, etc.) for one hour and receive a meal voucher at the end of that hour. It’s a way to add to the dignity of the experience while still encouraging people to contribute to our mission through their time.

– Ron Shaich, founder, chairman and co-CEO of Panera Bread and president of the Panera Bread Foundation

Additionally, any donations in excess of direct operating costs are used to develop and sustain additional programs for the community, like the job training internship currently being offered in St. Louis, Detroit, and Portland for local at-risk youth.

The intent of the program is to enhance the participants’ educational experience, teach necessary work and life skills and provide access to a real life working environment and team.

With philanthropy as its foundation, it is no wonder that Panera Bread has made it to the Fortune World’s Most Admired Companies and Forbes America’s Best Employers amongst other successes.

Fun Fact: Panera Bread was the first chain restaurant to tell customers how many calories they were consuming.

A sincere thank you to Panera Bread Company for keeping our bellies satisfied and our hearts full!

Have you been to a Panera Bread before? Are you motivated to support them more now? I know I am!

Much Love,


If you would like to share some pay it forward ideas, stories, and inspiration and/or if you know of someone or an organization you think should be highlighted in the series feel free to contact me at YOUnfolded@gmail or on my contact page for the opportunity to be featured! This is my way of paying it forward to all of you 🙂

About Yentl 184 Articles
Welcome, Beautiful! I'm Yentl. A holistic dietitian & inner beauty coach dedicated to inspire you to live your passions, love yourself & others, and savor the journey along with deliciously nourishing treats for the ride...

10 Comments on Pay It Forward | Panera Cares

    • Wow, thank you, Sarah! It is truly amazing what Panera is doing and I don’t doubt their success has been due in a large part to their philanthropy. Enjoy your Sunday:)

  1. I was completely unaware of Panera’s charitable role. I will look closer into their menu to help people turn to their organization for meal options by sharing their healthier choices so that EVERYONE benefits. Thank you for passing this information FORWARD!

    • Hi, Dr. Jonathan! I feel like it’s been forever! Hope you are well:) I was also very pleasantly surprised about Panera and I appreciate you for spreading the word:) Always so great to hear from you.

    • Same here:) There are so many restaurants that throw away tons of food daily and it’s frustrating and heartbreaking to know there are many who don’t know when their next meal is going through be:/


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