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Each year, Black Box Intelligence (formerly TDn2K) (Transforming Data into Knowledge) hosts the Global Best Practices Conference, an event designed to bring together the best and brightest restaurant leaders to share insights as well as honor those in the industry who have truly gone above and beyond in creating superior workplaces. These workplaces are honored with the annual Best Practices awards for outstanding performance in categories such as workforce diversity, community involvement and sustainable practices. Nominees must be members of Workforce Intelligence (formerly People Report) and place in the top 10% of their segment in these categories.

This year’s list of finalists in the fast casual segment includes Zoe’s Kitchen, Jason’s Deli and Panera Bread. Panera Bread’s mission revolves around serving the freshest meals to the community while also creating a supportive and growth-centered environment for their employees. Here’s what we learned about Panera Bread’s vision of dedication:

Does your company have any type of fund or initiative that is designed to help employees in a time of need?

At Panera Bread, we celebrate the good times and we come together to help each other during the tough times. The Friends in Knead fund was established in 2011 to provide critically needed support and assistance to associates when faced with a severe and unexpected hardship. The current hardships eligible for assistance include: natural/household disaster, care of an ill family member, transitional housing (for domestic situations), relocation of surviving children, emergency travel or funeral expenses.

This 501(c)(3) organization is made possible by more than the 4,500 Panera associates, with donations beginning at 50 cents per paycheck to assist their fellow associates during their time of need. Generally, grants range from $100 to $2,500. Since inception, the fund has assisted more than 600 associates and dispersed over $670,000 in grants.

Included are just a few comments we have received from grant recipients:

“I have two words to say: thank you. From this day I’ll recommend that everyone at Panera make an effort and join Friends in Knead. Thank you so much.”
Fredrick – Fresh Dough Facility, Beltsville, Md.

“My husband passed away of a sudden heart attack. We had no life insurance. I have to thank Friends in Knead as they helped me out so much. It’s good to know that there are still a lot of good people out there.”
Susan – Bakery-cafe, Greenfield, Wisc.

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How do you involve the community in your sustainable practices? Why do you think community involvement is important in creating an environmentally conscious company and society?

While we view ‘serving food as it should be’ a primary responsibility, our journey also encompasses our role as an employer, a restaurateur, a community partner and a business partner. And fostering an everyday oasis means creating a warm, comfortable, uplifting refuge for our guests, while also being mindful of our planet’s resources. We know community involvement is valued by our customers, associates and prospective associates. But it’s more than that — it’s simply the right thing to do in our quest to be part of the solution to our society’s food challenges while making a positive impact on the 7.8 million customers who visit our bakery-cafes each week.

There are two main types of waste in our bakery-cafes: packaging and food waste, both of which are generated in the guest areas and back-of-house. The collection of recycled materials varies greatly from community to community, with some areas collecting a wide array of recyclables, while other areas have minimal or no recycling pick-up service. We are committed to increasing the number of bakery-cafes that offer recycling, where service is available. And even where we offer recycling in bakery-cafes, guest confusion over which packaging items are recyclable can lead to lower rates of recycling. We hope to continue increasing the number of locations with table service. Guests will enjoy the added service, and they will no longer need to bus their dishes or dispose of their own waste. This will allow our associates to correctly dispose of recyclables.

One way we avoid food waste is through our Day-End Dough-Nation™ program, which provides leftover bread and other foods to local charities. When feasible and available, recycling and composting options are provided in the bakery-cafes. At the end of 2014, approximately 50 percent of our company owned bakery-cafes were offering some recycling options; and approximately 70 percent of our franchised bakery-cafes had recycling. Composting is available in 25 of our company owned bakery-cafes and at our St. Louis support center.

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What do you think Panera employees enjoy the most about working for the company?

We hold fireside chats with our Retail associates twice each year. Fireside chats are an opportunity for Panera to understand what is on the minds of our associates through a facilitated discussion. One of the questions we asked our hourly associates was “what about your experiences at Panera most encourages you?” The top three answers were: personal and teammate personal growth; our clean ingredient movement and quick service without feeling like a fast-food chain; and appreciating management teams and feeling that the company has good morals. The other question asked of our associates was “how do you feel about working at Panera” with the top answers including: Feels like family, great teamwork and a respectful environment; great products, clean food, quality and brand; and love for our regular customers.

What’s the biggest benefit of using human capital metrics in your operations?

We have introduced even more people metrics for 2016. It is our belief that increased performance across our people metrics increases our ability to run successful cafes. We have found that great managers have more highly-engaged associates and that leads to lower turnover, which in turn leads to higher customer satisfaction and better labor controls.

Best Practice Award Nominees must be members of Workforce Intelligence (formerly People Report) and place in the top 10% of their segment in management retention, hourly employee retention, composite workforce diversity, year over year improvement in people metrics overall and community involvement. For more information on these awards, please contact sarah.atkinson-higgins@tdn2k.com.