More than just sandwiches
Last week a new Panera Bread restaurant opened up down the street from my house. They are the zen masters of soup and sandwiches. Nearly everyone I talked to eagerly awaited the store to start business. There was buzz created for months just seeing the building go up. This word of mouth marketing power is well earned by the business.
From top to bottom Panera is designed to serve fast food that tastes great. The decor and vibe is well suited to a fantastic breakfast, lunch or dinner. Their bread and other baked goods are all freshly made in house before the store opens each morning. The soups are always hot and delicious. But enough about this particular store, let me go over briefly why I believe Panera Bread is such a successful business model.
1) The business focuses on this number one discriminant between restaurants. It achieves high quality flavor by focusing on a core selection of food. They make the best soups, sandwiches, and baked goods. That's it. It does this at a price that is well matched to the eating experience (somewhere in cost between Mcdonalds and a diner).
2) From the time an order is taken, to the moment a customer's name is called, and throughout the dining experience, we are made to feel welcome. Drinks are self served for the most part (fresh lemonade or specialty drinks are made behind the counter), which grants folks free refills. This is a big plus for those that guzzle down a couple of iced coffees during a meal. Employees for the greater part appear to be enjoying working there. This is a huge plus for customers. Seeing folks making your food that are generally happy instills greater comfort and trust in customers.
3) The dining area is arranged to feel cozy yet comfortable. Each booth or table caters to a relaxed and open eating experience. Customers can clean up after themselves, while employees wipe down each eating area intermittently.
If you're going to start a business in any area, repeat after me, "be like Panera". They're the best in a highly competitive space.