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Panera Bread on Huntington Avenue
Original photo by Johannah Hines

Panera’s Coffee Subscription: Is It Worth It?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

If you know me, you know that my in coffee is new but strong. I went from strictly vanilla sweet cream cold brews at Starbucks to a short-lived espresso phase earlier this year to a small dabbling into tea. I’ve also had to recognize this about myself: it’s a lot less about the taste or the caffeine and more about the aesthetic of drinking coffee.

Enter Panera. I started going to Boulder’s location this semester as a way to get out of my house to study and get work done. I figured out (in my last semester, no less) that I work better when I’m not in my personal space, and the Panera on 29th Street had the Flatiron views, free wi-fi, and charging outlets that I needed to make it happen. Plus, my Starbucks habit was becoming expensive. So I decided to try out Panera as a place to park it for a few hours and get work done, and after just one visit, I had such a great productivity experience and knew I had to get the coffee subscription.

I’ve been subscribed to MyPanera+ Coffee since September 5th of this year, and I’m here to share my very positive experience with it.

the launch

Competing with major coffee players like Dunkin’ and Starbucks but also other breakfast and lunch chains, Panera did their research before launching this subscription. The subscription model in the restaurant industry has been on the rise, growing by over 100%, and companies like Burger King and KFC have seen success in their subscriptions. Panera’s CEO Niren Chaudhary shares: “a staggering number of Americans like to start their day with coffee. When we did some research, we found that half of those people are enthusiastic about their coffee, but they’re conflicted about the price. They feel guilty about spending so much money on high-quality coffee.”

Panera modeled MyPanera+ Coffee after things like Amazon Prime and Netflix and came to an under $10.00 price point. tested this subscription over 100 days in 150 cafes. Visitation increased by 200% and the renewal rate was between 90-95% (above 80% is considered favorable and indicated strong company retention by CFI). There are already 38 million existing MyPanera rewards members, so they knew they had a strong existing fanbase to tap into (compared to 24 million Starbucks Rewards members in July of 2021).

The simple business logic is there, though, and despite my best efforts it gets me every time: get the customer in the door with the coffee, and they’ll buy something else. Yup, while I’m not spending money on a cup of joe, I start my morning off with a bagel from the bakery, so they’re still getting my money. And I’m not the only one who has succumbed to this. CNBC reports that “food sales increased 70% with those customers.”

the subscription

Panera launched its coffee subscription service in February of 2020. You can redeem your free cup, any size, any day, any time. The reward renews to your account every two hours, so you can grab your free cup then. Here are the products I’ve used:

  • Light Roast Hot Coffee
  • Dark Roast Hot Coffee
  • Hazletnut Hot Coffee
  • Decaffenianted Hot Coffee
  • Hot Water / Tea
  • Iced Coffee

So far, I’ve had no trouble ever redeeming my cup. When I order through my mobile app, the “Daily Coffee Reward” automatically applies when I have a coffee or tea in my cart. If I order in-store at the kiosks, I log in with my MyPanera log in, and the reward is sitting there. I’ll admit though, I have not ever ordered through the in-person cashier, so I’m not sure about that. But unlike other subscriptions that may have hidden exceptions or things like that, MyPanera+ Coffee really doesn’t. You really can redeem a cup of any size at any time.

the cost

Panera’s coffee subscription costs $8.99 per month. With tax, it comes to $9.80 charged to your account.

So I’ve always been iffy on subscription models because sometimes it’s simply not worth it if you’re not getting your money’s worth. But let’s do some math, shall well? One cup of hot coffee typically costs $2.69, and if you bought one cup every day of the week, that’d quickly rack up to $18.83/week or $75.32/month. Okay so, $75.00 a month or $9.00. There’s no contesting that the subscription is a better deal.

Let’s go a step further and compare it to my other neighborhood coffee shop, Starbucks. If I were to get a similar size and product (a grande Pike Place Roast), it totals to $3.00, or $21.00/week or $84.00/month. While comparable to Panera, and perhaps arguably better quality, they don’t have a subscription model. So $84.00 or $9.00. Again, no contest.

But the best part of this whole thing is that you get your first three months free! So up until December, I’ve been drinking cup after cup without really paying at all. I finally got my first charge for this month, and it’s no doubt they had me hooked no these free three months. And because I visit so often, I have been getting other rewards too, like a few dollars off specific products or a free pastry!

My Recommendation

  • If you’re a frequent Panera visitor, get the subscription.
  • If you’re a frequent coffee drinker, get the subscription.
  • If you’re a frequent studies-or-works-at-a-cafe person, get the subscription.

If you’re a serious coffee lover, I could see you maybe not loving the Panera coffee. Is it the best quality? No, but to me, it doesn’t really matter. I’m kind of used to it now and have found the right combination of milk/cream in both hot and iced coffee. Overall, it allows me to enjoy coffee enough without the price tag, which to me is worth the trade-off.

I know Panera maybe isn’t the vibe for everyone looking to study, work, eat, drink, etc., but it works for me. It’s more casual than boutique coffee shops and less crowded/more spacious than Starbucks. I love being able to sit outside when the weather is nice and not feel like I’m taking up space for hours like I feel at smaller cafes. Depending on how long I’m there, I’m able to renew my free cup and sometimes I switch up my table.

Plus, I’ve finally become a regular. They know my order/name when I come in! I’ve peaked.

If you see me (not) studying at the Boulder Panera, come say hi, and get your MyPanera+ Coffee subscription today!

Maeve is in her last year as a Leeds School of Business student and as a Her Campus writer (sad). When she's not singing Disney show tunes while her roommates aren't home, she can be found thinking about the cold brew she had with breakfast, humming the Hamilton soundtrack, and thinking about Captain America.
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