Smaller Fast-Casual Chains Take Page From Panera’s Book With Subscriptions

Panera Bread

With fast-casual giant Panera Bread continuing to see increased loyalty from its beverage subscription program, smaller fast-casual brands are looking to emulate that success with item giveaway subscriptions of their own.

For instance, in an email sent out to customers (reprinted by email newsletter archive Deal Town), Ohio-based fast-casual chain Piada Italian Street Food, which has around 50 locations across seven states, announced the launch of its new Stickscription plan.

The program offers members of its Piada One loyalty program one free Piada Stick (a baked dough stick with parmesan cheese and/or pepperoni and served with a parmesan sauce) as well as a fountain drink every day for $6.99/month or for a $30 payment for the six-or-so months until the end of the year (which also comes with branded swag).

Piada is not the only small restaurant brand to get into subscription commerce in recent months. Earlier this year, Primanti Bros. Restaurant and Bar, which has 38 locations in and around its Pennsylvania, launched a pizza subscription, offering a slice a day every day for $9.99 a month.

As of just last year, there was not a huge amount of interest in restaurant subscription programs, but since so many more restaurants have entered the space, it is possible that consumer sentiment has shifted.

Specifically, PYMNTS’ February/March 2022 study “Digital Divide: Restaurant Subscribers and Loyalty Programs,” which drew from a survey of more than 2,000 U.S. consumers, found that 17% of consumers are “very” or “extremely” interested in being provided a restaurant subscription service. Conversely, 25% reported being neutral to the concept, and the majority of consumers (58%) reported being just slightly interested or not interested at all in participating.

Yet, those who were interested were restaurants’ best customers. The study found that 78% of subscribers and 73% of those interested in subscriptions reported being very or extremely loyal toward their preferred QSRs. Conversely, just 41% of those who are uninterested in subscriptions said the same.

Since then, subscriptions have become more common in the industry, making them less of a strange novelty and more of a normal part of how restaurants generate loyalty.

Panera expanded its coffee/tea subscription to include more beverages and to include an annual option with free delivery. Sweetgreen brought back its Sweetpass+ subscription on a more permanent basis, initially tested in early 2022, whereby consumers pay $10 a month for up to one $3 discount a day off an order, this time adding a few extra perks. Subway launched and later revived its Footlong Pass, offering 50% off a footlong sub purchase up to once a day for 30 days for a flat $15 fee. P.F. Chang’s debuted a rewards program subscription, offering free delivery, expanded rewards and “VIP-level service” for $6.99 a month.

These moves come as consumers increasingly seek deals on their restaurant orders. Research from PYMNTS’ study “Connected Dining: Consumers Like the Taste of Discount Meals,” which draws from a survey of more than 1,800 U.S. consumers, finds that 26% of consumers paid a reduced price for their most recent restaurant meal as of February, up 85% from March 2022. Since the time of that survey, restaurant inflation has only gotten worse.