The Panera Success Story That Could Save Millions of Jobs

    Repurposing workers can serve as a vital lifeline for many restaurant companies.

    Panera Bread's Baja Grain Bowl on a table next to soup.

    Panera Bread

    Innovation has created plenty of worry when it comes to job security, but it has also created a tremendous opportunity.

    More than 6.5 million Americans filed for unemployment this past week, crushing the previous record of 665,000, which occurred during the 2008 recession. Those shocking numbers have meant bipartisan agreement on an unprecedented stimulus package, but they’re more than just numbers—each digit represents a person who is suffering, in many cases, along with their families.

    That’s why it is so vitally important that we do everything in our power to save those jobs that can still be saved and improve livelihoods in the process. While the conversation around jobs has revolved almost exclusively around stimulus, having businesses rethink their employee strategy to repurpose their workers and survive this new reality deserves to be part of the conversation.

    “Servers? Don’t need them. Cashiers? They’ll have to claim unemployment benefits. Dishwashers? Well, no one is eating in.” Those seemingly immovable realities for restaurants have led to many thousands of layoffs, with holdouts moving in the same direction. It’s terrible for the economy and its consequences for workers, who our society depended on to keep us running every single day, are far reaching. Laying off workers, however, isn’t the only solution to keep these businesses afloat.

    Innovation has created plenty of worry when it comes to job security, but it has also created a tremendous opportunity. Several delivery orchestration platforms have announced free software that will allow smaller businesses to manage their own deliveries. Typically, many restaurants simply pay a fee and rely on third-parties, or they don’t have deliveries because they’re too complex, but that’s no longer the case. Restaurant workers, many of whom may have personal relationships with customers and know their preferences, can now be turned into drivers.

    Not only would jobs be saved and customers get their deliveries from wait staff that know them, but the rest of us would be far better off. Any economic stimulus from the U.S. government, as necessary as it may be, means borrowing money that the American taxpayer will have to pay interest on. It typically also reduces the ability of the Federal Reserve System to act to address future economic turbulence that could occur beyond the short term. Repurposing employees, and saving those jobs, saves livelihoods now and contributes to the long-term macroeconomic wellbeing of the U.S.

    This concept of repurposing is backed up by real-world examples in the restaurant industry. For example, Panera’s hybrid model of delivery repurposed store workers part of the time to make deliveries and enabled the use of crowdsourced fleet when that wasn’t possible, because of too much in-store or delivery demand. This resulted in a better, more personalized customer experience, saved the chain money, and proved that staff could be utilized for delivery.

    The beauty of this concept, which is so obviously applicable to restaurants, is that it’s applicable for other industries that are shuttered and having difficulties as well. Brick-and-mortar retailers face the same dilemma, they’re not “vital” and they’ve got plenty of staff with positions that, at least on the face of it, have no use during the current shutdown. When we look at the value of the restaurant industry and brick and mortar retail, it’s a sizable chunk of the U.S. economy, and saving it without needing major amounts of bailout and unemployment money could have a positive ripple effect.

    Beyond the general effects of repurposing, this is exactly the type of “Main Street” support that politicians talk about, but which all too often is too difficult to clearly define. We hear talk about helping Main Street, but it’s usually a simple formula of cut taxes and failing businesses will benefit—that is not sustainable. The fact of the matter is giant restaurant chains, third-party fleets, and big retailers have sophisticated delivery infrastructure already in place, as a result many will benefit as disproportionately from the shift to delivery as they already have been. Repurposing employees during this critical period saves small businesses and helps to level the playing field.

    There are so many questions that remain unanswered and plenty of factors beyond our control when it comes to saving lives and saving jobs. Yet when it comes to the shift to delivery and saving industries that are so terribly affected by this crisis, such as restaurants and retailers, the answer is clear. We need Main Street businesses to survive not only with assistance, but by embracing the repurposing of their employees and the tech that will make that happen.

    Guy Bloch is the CEO at Bringg. Guy has nearly 20 years of experience leading large organizations in the global enterprise software market, and transforming them into highly successful hyper-growth environments. He joined Bringg after spending 6 years in senior leadership roles at Splunk (Nasdaq: SPLK), most recently as COO EMEA. Guy has an MBA from the New York Institute of Technology and a BA from Ben-Gurion University.