Panera's Pay-What-You-Want Restaurant Actually Works

What's a sandwich from Panera worth? You decide. A month ago, a nonprofit foundation supported by the Phoenix-based chain of bakery-cafés opened a new kind of restaurant in the St. Louis suburb of Clayton. The idea: Customers pay whatever they want.

The menu features "suggested" prices for sandwiches, bread, and coffee, but patrons can pay less—or pay nothing at all. So far, it seems to be working. Ronald Shaich, Panera's chairman, has said that 60 to 70 percent of customers pay the full suggested price and thinks the restaurant will be able to cover its costs within months, and eventually support other charities. With the success of this pilot project, two more nonprofit bakeries are scheduled to open soon. If you really need it, there is a free lunch for you in Clayton.

Image: 2010-01-29, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from gottgraphicsdesign's photostream