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Back to Future in Panera's Long-Awaited Table Service

“How civilized!” I exclaimed as a staff member at Panera Bread said someone would bring my food to my table—this store in Roseville, Minnesota, being the first in the state to test the new system.

The deliver-to-you program had been in place for a week in early April, and so far, so good, the staff member said—it took a bit of time for workers to adjust to the change. But for customers of a certain age (that means baby boomers, not millennials) this was instant bliss.

I had barely taken a seat when my order was delivered to the table. No loud buzz from the pager, which would then cause me to collect my purse and phone, head to the scrum at the counter, figure out which order was mine, dig for the butter (why do they keep moving it?) and return to my seat.

At the table next to mine, orders were quickly delivered as well, and then the server herself, not the customer, ran back to get more butter. I know from eating out with my kids that teens and 20-somethings don’t care about things like this—a wait in line is simply another opportunity to Instagram. But for my husband and me, all those fast-casual restaurant lines so popular today are just another annoyance.

It’s been a long time coming: I’ve got a Panera press release from October 2014, which announces the unveiling of Panera 2.0, and the program was said to include delivery to the table for dine-in customers. “This means that, once guests place their order, they simply walk to their table where the food will be delivered in a matter of minutes,” the release cheerily said.

Sixteen months later, and the test has begun. Well done, Panera—and other chains that are trying to appeal to not just millennials, but also to their older counterparts who may sometimes be footing the bill.

Newk’s, La Madeleine, Noodles & Co. and Fazoli’s are just a few of the others “experimenting” with one of the oldest ideas in restaurants—serve the customer. It’s funny how new and fresh that simple idea seems.

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