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America's Largest Bakery Cafe Chain Just Unveiled Its New Look

The new location features modernized interiors and a bigger drive-thru.

Panera, one of America's most beloved destinations for freshly baked goods, hearty lunch options, and coffee, is taking a major leap into the future. Several months ago, the chain announced it was redesigning its restaurants and operations to meet the shifting demands of an "increasingly off-premise world," and described the efforts as two-fold: providing both a smoother off-premises experience as well as a more elevated experience for those customers who do end up using its dining rooms.

The chain moved swiftly with implementing the changes, unveiling its first "next-generation" restaurant just last week. Here's a peek into what you can expect from Panera's new look.

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The inaugural next-gen restaurant opened last week

panera green tower
Courtesy of Panera

Panera recently opened its first updated restaurant in Ballwin, Mo., only several miles away from its St. Louis headquarters. The store doubles as a first-ever look at the chain's updated interiors and exteriors, which the company plans on implementing at all new restaurants in the future, most of which will be located in suburban areas.

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Cozier interiors

panera entry
Panera Bread

What's cozier than the smell of freshly baked bread and pastries? A visual of them coming out of the oven. While new locations will, on average, be five times smaller than current ones, Panera isn't giving up on the cozy factor. The chain will put their baking process on display like never before—by placing the ovens in full view of guests. Previously, the chain's artisanal baking process took place overnight and was hidden from customers, while the new setup will turn baking into a daytime attraction for those dining in.

A more robust drive-thru

panera drive through
Courtessy of Panera

The chain's newly opened locations will feature double drive-thru lanes. Besides the regular lane, another lane will be added solely for the Rapid Pick Up option—drive-thru orders placed ahead of time through the mobile app.

Contactless everything

panera kiosks
Courtesy of Panera
The chain has contactless features for drive-thru, delivery, and dine-in customers, and will continue to improve on the existing setup. For example, if dining in or grabbing takeout, you'll be able to place your order through an updated ordering kiosk with automatic loyalty identification, which will show you a personalized version of the menu—highlighting your favorite and recently ordered items. Alternatively, all orders can also be placed through Panera's phone app, which will then notify you when your food is ready.

A "relentless focus on guest experience"

panera bakery closeup
Courtesy of Panera

The chain is going for "warm and inviting" with the new design, and customer experience is at the center of its operations. "We undertook the development of the next generation Panera bakery-cafe with a relentless focus on guest experience," said Rob Sopkin, SVP, Panera's chief development officer, in a statement. "Every step of the guest journey was scrutinized to find ways to make it more intuitive and convenient, and the result represents the very best of our design and development teams that we are proud to open today."

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Mura Dominko
Mura is ETNT's Executive Editor, leading the coverage of America's favorite restaurant chains, grocery stores, and viral food moments. Read more about Mura