Panera and Wendy’s: Designing Their Dining Experience for Millennials


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Millennials are the next generation of consumers coming of age currently and increasing in economic power. This group, roughly defined as anyone born between 1980 and 2007, has definite ideas about what drives value for them in a customer experience, including where they want to eat. Organizations that want to capture the attention of this demanding group should follow the lead of two national restaurant chains that are adapting their business model to accommodate the wants and needs of the next generation of consumers.

The chains are Panera Bread and Wendy’s. And the changes they have are an excellent example of taking what customers value and matching it with what drives value for them as an organization.

The Millennial Consumer

I have written about Millennials before, as they are quickly approaching a power play in both sides of the customer experience equation. By that, I mean that they will both be designing the customer experiences for many organizations and they will be customers that have the experience as they mature economically. With them come all their ideas, morals, and preferences that will shape both sides of the customer experience.

Millennials have different values than the generations before them that are unique to their generation. They like to use technology to its full extent. They aren’t afraid to be demanding and get what they want. They have no problem doing things differently than those that came before them. This includes how they interact with one another (on social media), how they interact with customer service (digitally) and how they want to work (remotely).

This concept follows them even as far as where they want to eat. Hence, the growing popularity of the fast casual restaurant.

The Rise of Fast Casual

Fast casual is a term that means the restaurant doesn’t have a wait staff, but it does have better quality food than its fast food counterparts. In the US, the idea of fast casual has been growing as a category situated between fast food and casual dining. Examples of this type of restaurant include Chipotle or Panera Bread. This mode of food delivery is experiencing even more gains as millennials take the driver’s seat from Boomers and Generation X.

One fast-casual chain that sees the potential of this trend from millennials is Panera Bread. They recognize the impact millennials will have on the food industry and are making lots of interesting changes to prepare for them.

In an article on, the details of how Panera is adapting their restaurant to better appeal to the millennial crowd was particularly interesting to me. The restaurant chain is planning to supplement the traditional ordering system at the register to a kiosk where customer input their orders directly and pay for them. Plans are to introduce 8 of these kiosks into each store, reducing the cashiers by one or two. The displaced cashiers will now run food to tables.

Panera is hoping that the kiosk system will solve some key issues that they have. First of all, they are hoping kiosks will improve order accuracy. The food industry estimates that as many as one in seven orders is incorrect, with half of these happening at order input. By putting ordering into the hands of customers, they hope to reduce these occurrences. Also, the new system will allow customers a chance to customize their orders—a quality sure to go over well with uber-demanding millennials. In addition, they are hopeful that the kiosks will help speed up their delivery of food that has a reputation for being slow, a negative to any hungry customer whatever generation they call their own.

I like the customer-focused nature of these changes. The idea that food will be prepared accurately and quickly is all positives in any diner’s estimation. But I feel like these adaptations are geared toward millennials most of all who:

  • Have no problem interfacing with technology
  • Want what they want when they want it and think that this is not too much to ask.

The Fast Food Response

But Panera isn’t the only food chain that wants the millennial dining dollars. Wendy’s is also making a play for the technology-loving, health conscious generation about to take over dining rooms across the nation.
The fast-food chain has identified millenials as 25% of their business presently. They want to lure them away from the fast casual restaurants, like Panera, and get them into their restaurants.

The strategy to attract the millennials, whom Wendy’s identifies as diners between the ages of 24 and 37, has three main points according to an article on

  • They have a millennial spokeswoman, identified as “Red.” The actress is 28, directly in their target market.
  • They also have boosted their digital marketing efforts, using Facebook and Twitter to reach them.
  • They have also focused on adding premium items to their menu with a focus on healthier choices as well as new enhancements on old favorites, like putting a bacon cheeseburger in a Ciabatta roll.

Customer focused efforts like these are the kinds of experience design features that create win wins for the restaurant and the people who eat there. These moves are not only good for reducing overhead costs and improving processes for the business, they also have important experience improvements for the customers.

They are in effect, taking what drives value for customers and using these as a guideline to create a new experience that drives value for them as an organization. Finding these kinds of situations is critical to differentiating yourself to your customers as well as your stockholders, something both Panera and Wendy’s management have to consider pretty much every single day. Something I would wager many of you have to consider every day as well.

What are you doing to create an environment conducive to attracting millennial customers? Will you be feeding the next generation of consumers or eating their dust when they leave you behind?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.


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