When I first heard of this idea from Panera Bread's Ron Shaich, I was impressed with both its elegance and its humanity. In simplest terms, it is, "Eat what you need to. Pay what you can." It turns out that some people will pay more for their meals so that other members of the community who might be short of cash can afford theirs. You can read more about it at this AP story.
Here's an update Ron sent to some friends a few weeks ago:
This week marked a significant milestone for Panera. Our first Panera Cares cafe, which opened its doors to the community on May 16, 2010, in Clayton, MO, celebrated its first anniversary. After that came additional Panera Cares cafes in Dearborn, Michigan and Portland, Oregon. Today Panera Cares is serving 10,000 to 20,000 people a week and our cafes are now expected to serve 500,000 to 1 Million meals in the next year. Each café has been a success and each has become self-sustaining. As well we graduated our first class of at risk youth this past week and each “at risk” young person is now working and contributing to society.
One highlight of the week was when anchor Brian Williams announced on NBC Nightly News that an earlier piece on its “Making a Difference” series had inspired Panera to develop the idea for Panera Cares and that NBC would be airing a story on the Panera Cares concept.
Here's the clip. Click here if you cannot see the video.