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Panera transforms digital infrastructure with Cisco

At Cisco Live in Las Vegas, Blaine Hurst from café chain Panera explained how he transformed the company’s infrastructure based on Cisco and Apple devices

Café and restaurant chain Panera has undergone a workplace transformation project that has seen it receive about 135,000 digital orders per day.

The project, dubbed Panera 2.0, saw the company go from being – in its own words – one of the worst-performing organisations from an IT point of view to one of the best.

Speaking at Cisco Live in Las Vegas, Panera EVP, chief transformation and growth officer Blaine Hurst said: “When I came to Panera, we were probably one of the worst-performing IT teams in the restaurant industry.”

When Hurst joined the company about five years ago, queues at many of Panera’s outlets were so bad that people were leaving without buying anything, which was costing the company in terms of revenue and reputation.

He labelled it the “desire/friction ratio”, which meant how much people wanted to eat there compared to how long they were willing to wait.

But the digital transformation project was slow to get off the ground. “I called people at Google, I called people at Apple – no one would return my call,” said Hurst. “Finally, I got a local Apple Store worker to come to talk to me about iPads, and now we are partners with Apple.”

Panera launched its mobile app along with what it calls Rapid Pick Up, which means customers can place their order through the app and pick it up as soon as they arrive. An addition to that product enabled customers to bypass queues completely by ordering from their mobile app once they are sat down in the restaurant, with the food brought out to them when ready.

Panera also added kiosks to many of its stores in the form of Apple iPads, which enabled customers to order at the restaurant and have the food delivered to their table.

The company now receives about 135,000 digital orders each day, with 18% of its orders coming through its digital platforms.

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“Pizza restaurants, for example, will see far higher numbers than that, but we are not in that industry, and our figures are industry-leading,” said Hurst. “Some of our markets deliver 37% digital orders.”

The company has also been collecting and analysing data from its apps and kiosks, which reveals that within 12 months of placing their first digital order, customers increased their order frequency by 30% for Rapid Pick Up and 15% for kiosks, on average.

Panera is also pulling in 200,000 survey responses a month through its digital platforms, which it is using to fine-tune the way the systems work.

And it is not just Panera’s customer-facing business that has been transformed. Behind the scenes, the company uses Cisco throughout its datacentre, with a single pane of management from its home in St Louis to all its outlets.

In its restaurants, as well as UCS Blades and Meraki devices, Panera now uses two separate broadband connections, one for customers and one for the business.

“First and foremost, it starts because we have a great brand. This wouldn’t have worked otherwise,” said Hurst. “We asked what we could do digitally to help transform the guest experience. We discovered early on [in the project] that the technology doesn’t matter, it’s about the experience – that’s what matters.

“We are technologists first, but if we are not customer-centric and focused, it doesn’t matter.” .........................................................

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