Panera to expand table service, drive-thrus


Panera will expand a test of table service and drive-thrus this year, Panera Bread Co. executives said Wednesday.

Company executives spoke with analysts after reporting Tuesday that profit increased 5.8 percent in the fourth quarter after special charges.

The St. Louis, Mo.-based bakery-café chain said earnings for the quarter ended Dec. 27, 2011, rose to $38.6 million, or $1.31 per share, up from $36.5 million, or $1.21 per share, in the year-ago period.

Revenue rose 15.8 percent, to $495.8 million, from $428.2 million in the previous year.

In the coming months, Panera plans to offer more table-delivery units in what has been a predominantly fast-casual service model.

“We now have table delivery in 132 company bakery-cafés and 214 across our system,” said William W. Moreton, Panera’s chief executive and president. “We continue to believe this is the right way to position our concept to deliver the type of customer experience we are striving for.”

Moreton emphasized that table service is designed to position Panera competitively. “We think it’s very consistent with the rest of the Panera experience we’re trying to provide,” he said, adding that it increases consumer scores in friendliness. “You’ll see this evolve and unfold.”

In addition, Moreton said about 50 of the 115 to 120 new Panera units in 2012 will feature drive-thrus. “In 2011, 30 of our new bakery-cafés were drive-thru units, bringing our total at the end of 2011 to 119 drive-thrus.” An additional 25 will be converted to drive-thrus in retrofit remodels, he said.

During the company’s earnings call with investors, executives also discussed:

Same-store sales: The company expects a 7-percent to 7.5-percent increase in same-store sales for the year. In the fourth quarter, Panera reported that same-store sales had increased 5.9 percent in the quarter at company-owned restaurants and 3.2 percent at franchised units. “So far in 2012, our first-quarter to-date company comparable-store sales are up 8.9 percent,” Moreton said.