The Fish Rots From The Head

by Bo McDonald

When Panera Bread launched “The Meal of Shared Responsibility” in March they embarked on quite a noble cause. If you missed the news earlier this year, “The Meal” was a single menu item, Turkey Chili in a Bread Bowl. Panera set the price at $5.89 including tax. It was more of a suggestion. The actual cost could be more or less, depending on the customer’s ability to pay.

The item was featured in 48 Panera locations in the US and was a great a compliment to their ongoing work to fight food insecurity.  Despite a great start, the “pay what you can” idea slowly faded into a lonely dark abyss.  Marketing efforts ended when and employees stopped “explaining the concept to customers.”

The now defunct “Meal of Shared Responsibility” shines a bright light on the importance of employee engagement. Panera learned a costly lesson as awareness dropped and employees didn’t give the right answers to inquisitive customers.  The concept tanked. As a result, the average paid for a meal went from well above retail value to 25 percent below.

Panera’s loss is your gain. Not that you’re going to pick up where they left off and start serving meals at your credit union, but it’s a great learning opportunity. It doesn’t matter if you have a great product and a noble idea. If your staff doesn’t talk it up because they’re not informed or they just don’t want to, your marketing won’t be 100 percent successful.  Don’t forget get the front line to buy into a new idea, so they’ll sell it to members.

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